10 April 2013
Scientists at Northwestern Medicine have developed a chemotherapy drug that is extremely effective in treating cancer, yet does not irreparably damage fertility.
Dr Theresa Woodruff, co-principal investigator of the study, said the drug was designed specifically to kill cancer without causing sterility in young women - a side effect of many cancer treatments on both male and female patients.
“As this new drug goes forward in development, we can say this is a good drug for young female cancer patients who are concerned about fertility”, Dr Woodruff said.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, this revolutionary arsenic-based chemo drug is delivered in the form of nanoparticles. Once it enters the body, it works by acting as a Trojan horse. Developers packed ‘nanobins’, or nano-sized crystals of arsenic, within capsules of fat. This tricks the body into registering the drug as mere bubbles of fat, when in reality each capsule contains millions of cancer-fighting molecules.
Co-principal investigator Thomas O’Halloran described challenges he and Dr Teresa Woodruff faced while developing the drug: “You have to wallop the tumor with a significant dose of arsenic but at the same time prevent exposure to normal tissue from the drug”.
The new chemo drug was tested extensively to determine how it affected fertility. Toxicity tests revealed it prevented damage to ovarian tissue, follicles or eggs.
Scientists hope their new drug will raise awareness of fertoxicity, or fertility toxicity, caused by cancer treatment and encourage development of less damaging drugs.
“Many cancer drugs cause sterilization, that’s why the reproductive tract is really important to focus on in the new stages of drug design”, Dr O’Halloran said. “Other body systems get better when people stop taking the drug, but fertility you can’t recover”.
Fertility tests are available for cancer patients concerned about their ability to conceive. Tests can establish the cause of infertility, determining if it was caused by chemotherapy, disease or reproductive issues, and suggest treatment options.
Posted by Edward Bartel
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