This site is intended for health professionals only

Drug may tackle chemo fertility effect

The danger of infertility caused by chemotherapy could be ended by using a leukaemia drug, research has suggested.

A biological mechanism explaining why cancer treatments may trigger an early menopause has been discovered and scientists believe they can block it using the leukaemia drug imatinib (Glivec).

The discovery could bring new hope to women with cancer, who often only have the choice of having eggs removed and frozen for later invitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment if they want to have children after treatment.

While the research is at an early stage, scientists believe there are notable consequences to their discovery, and are calling for follow-up work and eventually, tests on patients.

Chemotherapy drugs run the risk of causing infertility due to the the cell-death signalling compounds they employ, for example cisplatin.

They are designed to cause apoptosis, or self-destruction, in cancer cells, but can also damage DNA in immature egg cells.

The Italian researchers, led by Dr Stefania Gonfloni from the University of Rome, found that an enzyme called c-Abl played a key role in passing on the self-destruct instruction to egg cells.

Copyright © Press Association 2009

Nature Medicine