Tuesday, September 01, 2015

UTSA stem cell research provides hope for infertile cancer survivors

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(Nov. 29, 2012) -- Radiation and chemotherapy can pack a powerful punch against all kinds of cancers. Those who survive, however, are often left with bad news: Their treatments have rendered them infertile.

A UTSA professor has now demonstrated that it is possible to remove testicular stem cells from a monkey prior to chemotherapy, freeze them and later, after cancer treatments, transplant these cells where they can restart sperm production and restore fertility.

UTSA Assistant Professor Brian Hermann worked in collaboration with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Magee-Women's Research Institute (MWRI) on a technique that might be used to make male cancer patients fertile using their own spermatogonial stem cells.

"This is a really exciting milestone for this research," said John McCarrey, director of the San Antonio Cellular Therapeutics Institute. "This is the first time that anybody has been able to show the concept works in a primate model, and that is an important step in moving the research forward to clinical trials."

While men facing cancer treatments, which could cause infertility, are able to store their own sperm for future use in the fertility clinic, this is not an option for boys before puberty who are not yet making sperm. But, all pre-pubertal boys have spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) in their testes, which could be used for transplantation.

The concept of using spermatogonial stem cells to restore fertility was first introduced in the mid-1990s by University of Pennsylvania scholar Ralph L. Brinster. Since that time, scholars have been working to demonstrate the concept is viable.

But, more work is required. The research must overcome a number of hurdles before it can become a common clinical practice.

"This research demonstrates the proof of principle -- that the concept works in primates and has a good chance of working in humans," said Hermann. "We need to better understand the optimal timing of transplantation, how to prepare testicular stem cells for transplantation and make them safe for transplantation, and how to maximize their ability to restart sperm production."

But, it's difficult for researchers to know when clinical trials will begin, since the removal and storage of spermatogonial stem cells currently is a rare practice worldwide.

"There are currently only a handful of clinics around the world that will remove and preserve testicular stem cell samples from pre-pubertal patients, and that limits the availability of candidates," said Hermann. "Until more clinics get on board and save stem cells for patients, we are limited in what we can do to test transplantation in clinical trials."

Hermann joined the UTSA College of Sciences faculty in summer 2011, following a post-doctoral fellowship at MWRI alongside Associate Professor Kyle Orwig. At UTSA, he is continuing to focus his research on basic and translational studies of spermatogonial stem cells to preserve fertility in boys treated for cancer and related diseases.

"For a long time, oncologists have been unable to address the long-term consequences of life-saving chemotherapy and radiation treatments such as infertility," said Hermann. "That is now beginning to change as laboratory research such as this study provides new experimental options for patients facing infertility after cancer."

Hermann's research is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund, and UTSA.

Learn more about Hermann's research and read his article "Spermatogonial Stem Cell Transplantation into Rhesus Testes Regenerates Spermatogenesis Producing Functional Sperm" in the current issue of Cell Stem Cell, the nation's leading stem cell journal.

 

 

Did You Know?

Football standouts make Roadrunner history

For Ashaad Mabry and Triston Wade, football is not just a passing fancy. Both players were part of the UTSA football program almost from the beginning. When UTSA opens the 2015 season Thursday at Arizona, it will be the first time the Roadrunners take the field without them. But Mabry and Wade will still be playing football; their uniforms will just be a different color.

Mabry, a defensive tackle from San Antonio's MacArthur High School, was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection his final two seasons as a Roadrunner and second among the team's defensive linemen with 49 tackles last year. Wade, a defensive back from Tyler, was the most decorated player in school history. He was a semifinalist for the 2014 Jim Thorpe Award – for the nation's top defensive back – a three-time all-conference honoree and two-year team captain who set a school record of 293 tackles in his career. Both men had outstanding college careers that allowed them to make UTSA history.

Did you know? Mabry and Wade both agreed to terms as undrafted free agents with the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks, respectively, becoming the first UTSA players to move to the professional ranks.

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