Edinburgh scientists find cancer drug to help women grow eggs

Chemotherapy drug users were found to have more young eggs. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Chemotherapy drug users were found to have more young eggs. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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A common cancer treatment could help women to grow new eggs, new research suggests.

A small study led by Edinburgh University found that women treated with a chemotherapy drug combination used to target Hodgkin’s lymphoma had more young eggs in their ovaries afterwards.

Chemotherapy treatments can often damage fertility for cancer patients but women taking the drug combination known as ABVD actually had more eggs compared to women who had different chemotherapy or healthy women, according to findings published in Human Reproduction journal.

Lead researcher Professor Evelyn Telfer said the results could be “significant and far-reaching” for fertility but cautioned that research was needed to understand the mechanism of how the eggs are produced.

She said: “ABVD has normally not been thought to be a treatment that affects fertility but what was surprising was when we saw the changes that appeared in this group.

“They have more eggs and they appear to be more like those of pre-pubescent girls rather than women.

“This was really surprising to us. It’s a small study but a very consisent one.

“Everything happens in small steps and we believe this is an important step forward.”

The team analysed samples of ovary tissue donated by 14 women who had undergone chemotherapy, and from 12 healthy women of a similar age, as part of research into why ABVD is one of the few cancer drug combinations that does not harm fertility.

They found that the ovaries from the eight cancer patients treated with ABVD had more immature eggs compared with tissue from women who had received a different chemotherapy, or from healthy women of a similar age.

Future studies will examine the separate impact of each of the four drugs that combine to make ABVD - known as adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine - to better understand the biological mechanisms involved.

If further research can reveal how more eggs are produced, it would aid understanding of how women might be able to produce more eggs during their lifetime, which was until recently thought to be impossible.

Prfo Telfer said: “This study involves only a few patients, but its findings were consistent and its outcome may be significant and far-reaching.

“We need to know more about how this drug combination acts on the ovaries, and the implications of this.”

High level talks are currently underway over how to preserve fertility for cancer patients in Scotland ahead of their treatment.