A nine-year-old boy with a brain tumour has become the first in the UK to have testicular tissue frozen in the hope he can have children later in life.
Nathan Crawford has undergone radiotherapy and chemotherapy to shrink his inoperable tumour but the treatment could render him infertile.
In a groundbreaking procedure, surgeons at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford have removed a wedge of testicular tissue and frozen it, with the hope it can one day be re-implanted into Nathan.
If the procedure is successful, Nathan will have a good chance of becoming a father.
He has a type of tumour called a glioma, which develops from the glial cells that support the nerve cells of the brain. His tumour is so close to vital brain tissue that surgeons are unable to remove it without causing serious damage to important brain functions. Nathan has undergone radiotherapy and is currently having a second round of chemotherapy with the aim of shrinking the tumour.
Before he started chemotherapy, his family, who live in Bude, Cornwall, were offered the chance of testicular tissue freezing thanks to pioneering work at the John Radcliffe.
During keyhole surgery carried out under general anaesthetic and lasting 20 to 30 minutes, surgeons removed a wedge of tissue from one of Nathan’s testes.This sample contains sperm stem cells, which remain viable when slow-frozen within the small amount of testicular tissue.
Stepfather Jonathan Alison, 34, said the family first noticed something was wrong with Nathan in late January.
He said: “Nathan was having more headaches than you would expect and also had blurry vision, which we initially put down to too much time on the games console or problems with his eyesight.
“We took him to the opticians who sent us straight to the doctor. We were then sent up to Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, where Nathan underwent an operation within days to remove some of the fluid in his brain.
“He also needed a second procedure to biopsy the tumour. We have been told the tumour is non-cancerous.”
Mr Alison said he and Nathan’s mother Donna Hunt, 31, have explained the tumour to Nathan and how the procedure to store testicular tissue might help him in later life.
“Nathan loves children and so we told him this would increase the chances he can have his own,” he said.
Dr Sheila Lane, of the John Radcliffe, said the new technique had been shown to work in animal models. She added: “These tumours can possibly be cured with intensive chemotherapy. Patients can have a long and happy life without any problems.”