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An only child, Dylan “loves babies. He told me one day he was going to have 10 kids,” Hanlon says. Learning the risk late “broke my heart. … He might have lost an opportunity.”

Finally she tracked down Orwig, who oversees a multi-hospital program called Fertility Preservation in Pittsburgh that offers services to men, women, boys and girls.

Orwig and other researchers have restored fertility in a range of male animals _ mice, rats, pigs, dogs _ by storing and reimplanting sperm-producing stem cells.

Testing the technique in boys requires biopsy-style removal of a small amount of testicular tissue. No one knows how many stem cells are floating among the millions of other cells frozen from that sample, or how many are necessary. But Orwig says the more tissue collected, the better.

Dylan joked, “So Ma, I’ll be a guinea pig?” Hanlon says he easily agreed.

Most of his sample was frozen, for Dylan’s later use if he wants it. The rest went to Orwig’s lab for research _ and two weeks later came the good news that Dylan’s tissue indeed harbored stem cells despite a few months of chemo.

Key to this approach will be multiplying stored stem cells so that many more can be injected back, adds Dr. Jill Ginsberg of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who has banked cells from more than 25 boys in her own study. Her research partner at the University of Pennsylvania is working on that step.

Girls pose a different challenge.

Some young women have had strips of their ovaries removed and frozen before cancer treatment, and then transplanted back a few years later. It’s considered experimental even for adults, with 13 births reported worldwide so far, says Northwestern’s Woodruff.

Now researchers are banking the same tissue from girls. It requires laparoscopic surgery. Storing enough isn’t the issue: Egg follicles are progressively lost through life, so a girl harbors more than even a 20-something, Woodruff says. A bigger unknown is how long they can be frozen.

Also, there’s a possibility cancer cells could lurk in frozen tissue. So Woodruff is going the next step, researching ways to force those stored follicles to ripen into pure eggs in a lab dish.

However the different experiments pan out, Hanlon says more families should be told about them: “Doctors should have this information, have it there to give to the parents. Let the parents decide.”


EDITOR’S NOTE _ Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press.


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