A new study that found how certain cells in body die has raised hope for a new kind of treatment for infertility in women.
Researchers from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Monash University and Prince Henry's Institute of Medical Research found that two proteins - PUMA and NOXA - were responsible for the death of egg cells.
Other researchers have studied the role of these proteins in cancer suppression.
Cancer Therapy and Infertility in Women
Preserving fertility is important in cancer treatment. Cryopreservation of the ovary tissue that can be transplanted in women after their cancer treatment is still in its experimental stage.
Researchers in the present study found that when the genetic material in the egg cell was exposed to chemotherapy, the two culprit proteins, PUMA and NOXA, triggered egg cell death making the woman infertile.
"PUMA and NOXA can trigger cell death, and have been found to be necessary for the death of many different cell types in response to DNA damage. This removal of damaged cells is a natural process that is essential to maintaining health but, for women undergoing cancer treatment, can be devastating when it leads to infertility," said Clare Scott, from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
The researchers studied the role of these proteins in the primordial follicle, oocytes, which govern the future of a woman's fertility by determining the number of egg cells a woman has. When these egg cells are in low number, the woman reaches menopause earlier.
Jeff Kerr from Monash University said that when egg cells lacked the protein PUMA, they didn't die which would have been a certain cause for concern because you want damaged egg cells to die "so as not to produce abnormal offspring."
"To our great surprise we found that not only did the cells survive being irradiated, they were able to repair the DNA damage they had sustained and could be ovulated and fertilized, producing healthy offspring. When the cells were also missing the NOXA protein, there was even better protection against radiation," Kerr added.
New Drugs May Protect Fertility and Prevent Health Complications After Menopause
Scott said that since fertility was preserved after the activity of PUMA was stopped, there could be a future possibility of drugs that could protect fertility by blocking this protein. This therapy would benefit patients undergoing cancer treatment.
Jock Findlay from Prince Henry's Institute said that the study can help find ways to delay menopause.
"As well as prolonging female fertility, such a treatment could have the potential to reduce menopause-associated health conditions, such as osteoporosis and heart disease," said Findlay.
The study is published in the journal Molecular Cell.