Fertility preservation for cancer patients

14 July 2016

With your support we're funding the first UK centre to establish a fertility preservation programme to store testicular tissue from young cancer patients, prior to their treatment.

The team's work, at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh, has attracted media attention this week. A 33-year-old cancer survivor has become the first woman in Britain to give birth following re-implantation of cryopreserved ovarian tissue.

Edinburgh Fertility Preservation programmeEdinburgh Fertility Preservation logo

The programme of work in males, combined with Edinburgh’s well-established programme for females, has resulted in the establishment of the ‘Edinburgh Fertility Preservation’ (EFP) programme. This unique collaboration of scientists and clinicians combines laboratory and clinical research aimed at optimising fertility for children and young adults with cancer.

A key component of fertility preservation is cryopreserving or 'freezing' tissue and the Edinburgh Centre is the first - and currently the only - centre in the UK to be undertaking active research using cryopreserved ovarian and testis tissue. Their research focuses on the germ cells in these tissues and their development into sperm and eggs.

Currently there are no options to preserve fertility in young boys undergoing potentially sterilising treatment. Children with Cancer UK has given my team the opportunity to work towards a solution to this important clinical problem.Dr Rod Mitchell is a Clinician Scientist and Paediatric Endocrinologist at the University of Edinburgh and one of the co-founders of the EFP programme. He says: “Currently there are no options to preserve fertility in young boys undergoing potentially sterilising treatment. Children with Cancer UK has given my team the opportunity to work towards a solution to this important clinical problem.”

The EFP programme was officially launched in June as part of a full-day event at the University of Edinburgh. Neil Meemaduma, Research Manager at Children with Cancer UK, took part in the event, giving a talk that highlighted the importance of this research to survivors of childhood cancer.

Rod Mitchell spoke of the team’s excitement over the recent birth following re-implantation of ovarian tissue and the hope that this holds for other young survivors. He presented a wonderful animation (at the top of this page) created by him and his talented colleague Madalena Paiva Chaves, explaining their work.

Hope for the future

Children with Cancer UK is pleased to be supporting the pioneering work of the Edinburgh team.Commenting on this week’s news story, Dr Nick Goulden, Medical Research Director at Children with Cancer UK, says:

“The important report from the Edinburgh team, who have pioneered the development of this technology in the UK, offers further hope that re-implanting ovarian tissue frozen prior to successful treatment for cancer can be used to preserve fertility after cure.

This is particularly important in girls and young women receiving radiotherapy that affects the ovaries or high dose chemotherapy. The next few years will likely see further developments in this field including preservation of fertility in pre-pubertal boys.

Children with Cancer UK is pleased to be supporting the pioneering work of the Edinburgh team.”

Read more: The fertility research we're funding | Long-term effects of treatment

Visit the Edinburgh Fertility Preservation website

Katie Martin, Research Development Manager, 13th July 2016

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