Today, some 70 to 90 percent of children diagnosed with cancer survive to adulthood. But for many of them, the same treatments that extend young patients' lives also deprives them of the chance to have children of their own. Boys who've endured puberty prior to their diagnosis can have sperm frozen and saved for a later date, but younger boys are out of luck.
But a recent study involving laboratory mice suggests new hope. Soon, it may be possible take a small portion of testicle tissue and freeze it, and then years later use it to generate sperm cells.
Scientists have successfully used the technique on mice. Female mice were artificially inseminated with the generated sperm cells and successfully birthed healthy mice. The offspring were also able to mate successfully.
The study and its implications are detailed in the latest issue of the journal Nature Communications.
"This is the first time in animals," explained study co-author Takehiko Ogawa, a researcher Yokohama City University. "I predict it will take at least a couple of years before it is done in humans, it's not so easy.
"We have to optimize the culture conditions in each species," he added.
"Research in the last few years really is encouraging that the technique will be available in the future," said Richard Yu, a pediatric urologist at Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
Yu said if he had a young son battling cancer, he'd have the necessary tissue frozen for future use. "The alternative is to do nothing and your child has a high risk of sterility."