When people talk about fertility — especially when cancer treatment is involved — the conversation usually revolves around preserving a woman’s precious, limited number of egg cells from the destruction caused by chemotherapy. After all, it’s always been thought that the number of eggs that a woman is born with is all she gets — once they’re gone, they’re gone.
But research is now suggesting that that might not actually be true. A study published inHuman Reproduction found that there’s one cancer drug in particular — known as ABVD — that could actually help female fertility rather than destroy it. How? By potentially stimulating the production of new eggs in the woman’s ovaries.
Now, if you’re sitting there saying, “that’s impossible,” I wouldn’t blame you. For a long time, everyone thought it was. But if the study turns out to be accurate, then it could very well mean the end of the biological clock — so you can have kids whenever you GD please.
When the scientists first began their study, they wanted to figure out why Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients who were treated with the ABVD drug didn’t experience the same fertility problems as other cancer patients. So they biopsied the ovaries of 13 female patients (some who had gotten the drug, others who got different ones, and some who didn’t get any drugs), along with one who didn’t have Hodgkin’s. After examining the samples’ follicles (a thread-like thing that can mature into an egg), they discovered that all of the ABVD patients had way more follicles than the others — including the healthy people.
“It looked like pre-pubescent tissue with a high density of follicles and clustering that you don’t normally see in an adult,” Evelyn Telfer, Ph.D., one of the study authors told The Telegraph. “We knew that ABVD does not have a sterilizing effect like some cancer drugs can, but to find new eggs being made, in such huge numbers, that was very surprising to see.”
The findings directly contradict the long-standing theory that women are born with a certain number of follicles in their ovaries, and only a handful of those grow every month — only oneof which usually develops into an egg. It’s also believed that that these potential eggs deplete over time, which is one of the reasons for why a woman’s fertility usually drops drastically between the ages of 40 and 50.
Of course, the results are so freaking shocking that everyone has their doubts about the study’s results, specifically whether the scientists are actually seeing new filaments being created. And while Telfer agrees that there could be other explanations, she told The Guardian it could alsobe that the treatment is sending ovarian stem cells into overdrive. Ovarian stem cells are believed to constantly make new egg filaments over a woman’s lifespan, but not enough to outpace infertility. The theory was identified in mice in 2004, and has been disputed by reproductive experts, but there are other studies that claim to have identified stem cells in human ovaries. So it’s all very confusing as to whether it’s something that actually happens in humans or not.
This particular study is still in the beginning stages of research and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. For one, even if new follicles are being created, scientists need to figure out if those follicles can be mature enough to potentially become an egg, not to mention whether that egg can lead to a viable pregnancy for an older woman. Second, they need to see if these results can be reproduced on a larger scale, as this study only biopsied 13 women. Lastly, scientists need to figure out what exactly it is about the ABVD drug that’s causing this follicle production in the first place.
So, for now, don’t start downing cancer drugs in an effort to get pregnant. This research is very exciting though, and hopefully the researchers can step it up to get more answers.