A YEAR from now, a few scientists in Mumbai aim to be India's first to offer cancer patients a fertility bank. Until the patients are cured and ready to have babies, their eggs, sperm, strips of ovary and testes will be locked in the deep freeze — at sub-zero temperatures.
Even as Mumbai's National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH) is abuzz with new tests on human tissues, internationally, the treatment offers cancer survivors a cutting-edge option to avoid premature infertility - a potential side effect of chemotherapy and radiation.
"We have convincing data to partner with clinicians and offer cryopreservation (freezing under liquid nitrogen at -196 degree Celsius) of ovarian tissues or testes of cancer patients a year from now," Chander Puri, director, NIRRH, told HT. In the US, cancer patients have the choice of freezing ovarian or testicular tissues, eggs or sperm, before therapy starts. After recovery, the tissue is thawed and transplanted back into the patient where it becomes functional again.
"Several live births are reported from cancer survivors who had their ovarian strips returned," said Dr W.H. Wallace, consultant paediatric oncologist at Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh, UK.
At the NIRRH, scientists experimented with rat ovaries for nearly a year.
Recently, the institute's ethics committee cleared experiments on human ovaries and testes sourced with patients' consent. Deepa Bhartiya, assistant director, said, "After our studies on human tissue, we can offer cryopreservation to a limited number of cancer patients."
This could be a turning point, said oncologists who called for protocols. “I see scope though the research is not yet well documented," said Purna Kurkure, head of paediatric oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital.