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New technique could save cancer patients' fertility
Date:7/13/2009

CHICAGO The tiny translucent egg nestled in the special laboratory gel was a mere 30 days old, but its four-week birthday caused researchers to quietly celebrate. This was the first time anyone had successfully grown a woman's immature egg cells, contained in a tiny sac called a follicle, to a healthy and nearly mature egg in the laboratory. When an egg is fully mature, it is ready to be fertilized.

The researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have completed the first critical step in the development of a new technique, which, if successful in the next steps, may eventually provide a new fertility option for women whose cancer treatments destroy their ability to reproduce.

The nearly mature follicles grown for 30 days in the laboratory had been plucked from ovarian tissue of cancer patients before they began chemotherapy and radiation treatments that would destroy their fertility. The cancer patients, from Northwestern Memorial Hospital, had agreed to participate in the experimental fertility study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"By being able to take an immature ovarian follicle and grow it to produce a good quality egg, we're closer to that holy grail, which is to get an egg directly from ovarian tissue that can be fertilized for a cancer patient," said Teresa Woodruff, chief of fertility preservation at the Feinberg School and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

"This represents the basic science breakthrough necessary to better accomplish our goals of fertility preservation in cancer patients in the future," added Woodruff, who developed the new technique with colleagues.

Woodruff is the senior author of a paper on the findings in the July 14 issue of the journal Human Reproduction.

The next step will be for Northwestern researchers to try to induce the egg's final division, called meiosis,
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Contact: Marla Paul
Marla-Paul@northwestern.edu
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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