An existing drug may one day protect premenopausal women from life-altering infertility that commonly follows cancer treatments, according to a new study.
Women who are treated for cancer with radiation or certain chemotherapy drugs are commonly rendered sterile. According to a 2006 study from Weill Cornell Medicine, nearly 40 percent of all female breast cancer survivors experience premature ovarian failure, in which they lose normal function of their ovaries and often become infertile.
Women are born with a lifetime reserve of oocytes, or immature eggs, but those oocytes are among the most sensitive cells in the body and may be wiped out by such cancer treatments.
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The current study, published Aug. 1 in the journal Genetics, was led by John Schimenti, Cornell’s James Law Professor of Genetics in the Departments of Biomedical Sciences and Molecular Biology and Genetics. It builds on his 2014 research that identified a so-called checkpoint protein (CHK2) that becomes activated when oocytes are damaged by radiation.
CHK2 functions in a pathway that eliminates oocytes with DNA damage, a natural function to protect against giving birth to offspring bearing new mutations. When the researchers irradiated mice lacking the CHK2 gene, the oocytes survived, eventually repaired the DNA damage, and the mice gave birth to healthy pups.
The new study explored whether the checkpoint 2 pathway could be chemically inhibited.