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Childhood cancers are rare and account for 0.5% of all UK cancer cases; approximately 1600 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK with boys more susceptible than girls.

Developing methods for the cryopreservation and in vitro culture of testicular tissue for future fertility preservation

Childhood cancers are rare and account for 0.5% of all UK cancer cases; approximately 1600 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK with boys more susceptible than girls.  However, the use of aggressive chemo- or radio-therapies can cause irreparable damage to the pre-pubertal gonad, thus resulting in sterility.  As assisted reproductive technology (ART) continues to expand on a global basis, fertility preservation for pre-pubertal children undergoing cancer treatment is becoming an increasingly attractive option.

The ‘Future Fertility Trust’ was recently established in Oxford and coordinates a joint clinical/research programme to provide fertility-saving options for pre-pubertal girls and boys with cancer (www.futurefertilitytrustuk.org).

A DPhil project is available (subject to funding) to help us develop fertility preservation options for pre-pubertal boys. At this stage of life, the pre-pubertal testis has not yet started to produce functional sperm and it is therefore not possible to cryopreserve mature sperm, which represents the safest solution for adult males. Instead, appropriate methods must be devised which will allow immature testicular tissue to be safely frozen over long periods, and encourage the production of mature sperm from thawed testicular tissue by in vitro spermatogenesis which can then be used to rescue fertility via ART.

This project aims (a) devise methods to culture thawed testicular tissue in a manner which encourages and supports in vitro spermatogenesis, (b) create a perfused and environmentally-controlled three-dimensional (3D) scaffolding system to culture testicular tissue in order to provide the best possible chances of deriving functional sperm for ART, thus providing a platform from which to rescue fertility, and (c) investigate molecular strategies to deliver compounds to testicular cells to protect key cellular components against the detrimental effects of aggressive therapeutic regimes. 

training opportunities

The project offers training in a wide range of topics including those applicable to both clinical research and general personal development. The DPhil candidate would be trained in gamete handing, cryopreservation, cell culture, immunohistochemistry, immunocytochemistry, bioengineering, and nanotechnology. The project represents a collaborative venture with scientists and clinicians in Oxford and the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health in Edinburgh.

Supervisor

Dr Kevin Coward