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Medical research (illustrative)

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Soroka Medical Center researchers are developing a cell culture system that for the first time could transform testicular STEM cells into sperm-like cells, to enable the possibility of future fertility for pre-pubertal boys who must undergo chemotherapy for cancer.

Aggressive chemotherapy in childhood often results in male testicular damage and consequently jeopardizes future fertility.

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According to the findings published in Stem Cells and Development, the researchers found that the presence of spermatogonial cells (SPGCs) in the testes of prepubertal cancer patient boys (PCPBs) can be used to develop future strategies for male fertility preservation.

In the study, seven testicular biopsies were obtained from chemotherapy-treated PCPBs. The researchers were able to cultivate and isolate testicular cells into different stages of development (pre-meiotic, meiotic and post-meiotic cells). Furthermore, they identified sperm-like cells that had developed from the testicular cells of a PCPB.

“Our results demonstrate the presence of biologically active SPGCs in testicular biopsies of chemotherapy-treated PCPBs for the first time, and their capacity to develop in vitro to different stages of spermatogenesis including the generation of sperm-like cells,” according to lead researcher Prof. Mahmoud Huleihel, Co-Director of the Center of Advanced Research and Education in Reproduction (CARER), and a member of the Shraga Segal Dept. of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics, Faculty of Health Sciences.

“This study may open the way for new therapeutic strategies for fertility preservation of PCPBs and for azoospermic patients.”

The study was funded in part by The Kahn Foundation and The United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF).

Other researchers who participated include Prof. Eitan Lunenfeld, Fertility and IVF Unit, Dep. OB/GYN, Soroka and Co-Director of CARER. Other participants from Prof. Huleihel’s lab include PhD students Dr. Maram Abofoul-Azab and Ali Abu Madighem. Additional authors include Prof. Joseph Kapelushnik from BGU and Soroka, Prof. Qing Hua Shi from the University of Science and Technology of China, and Prof. Haim Pinkas of Beilinson Hospital, in Israel.

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