OHSU Is Part Of National Effort To Preserve, Restore Fertility In Women With Cancer

02/23/11  Portland, Ore.

The Oregon National Primate Research Center and the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine have been named to a national team of institutions hoping to preserve or restore fertility in women battling cancer. The Oncofertility Consortium, funded for five years by the National Institutes of Health, features participants from five universities and comprises researchers, physicians, engineers, educators, social workers and medical ethicists.

“Biomedical research has helped save the lives of many women battling cancer,” explained Richard Stouffer, Ph.D., director of the research team at OHSU. Stouffer also directs ONPRC’s reproductive sciences division and is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “However, the powerful chemotherapy drugs and radiation used to beat cancer can also result in a loss of reproductive function, which is a tremendous blow to young cancer patients who hope to have children. The bottom-line goal for this research team across the United States is to help these women through various avenues including research, treatment and counseling.”

Additional members of the OHSU research team include Mary Zelinski, Ph.D., an affiliate assistant scientist at ONPRC, and David Lee, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, reproductive endocrinology and infertility in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Together the scientists are working on methods for restoring fertility in cancer patients by studying rhesus macaque monkeys who have reproductive systems very similar to humans. Specifically, the team is hoping to gain additional understanding about the growth of follicles in the ovaries and either to preserve or restart this function. Follicle growth is necessary for the development of oocytes (fertile eggs) in the ovaries.

Past research has demonstrated that cancer therapies often destroy follicles in the ovaries, thereby reducing fertility. Working with researchers at Northwestern University and University of Missouri-Columbia, the OHSU group will investigate methods to freeze and store monkey ovary tissue and, following thawing, to grow follicles in culture or to promote follicle growth after transplantation back into the monkey.

In 2004 Lee and colleagues published results in the journal Nature demonstrating great strides in re-establishing fertility in a rhesus macaque monkey after ovarian tissue transplantation that resulted in a successful birth. This research aims to build upon these earlier findings.

“Because this is a relatively new field, OHSU is home to one of the only fertility preservation programs in the country,” explained Lee, who serves as director of the OHSU Fertile Future Program. “Past fertility research milestones at OHSU include our research in monkeys who underwent ovarian tissue transplantation and also human studies such as the first human pregnancy from frozen-thawed eggs.

While the Oregon researchers conduct their research, other team members at the University of California, San Diego; the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Missouri-Columbia and the lead institution: Northwestern University will conduct additional studies. These studies will relate to preserving reproductive tissues for future transplantation, studying human follicles, and global and social studies of the oncofertility issue. Additional information on these studies and the educational opportunities in the consortium can be located at the research team’s Web site: http://oncofertility.northwestern.edu/


The ONPRC is a registered research institution, inspected regularly by the United States Department of Agriculture. It operates in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act and has an assurance of regulatory compliance on file with the National Institutes of Health. The ONPRC also participates in the voluntary accreditation program overseen by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC).

About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and only academic health center. As Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves more than 184,000 patients, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,900 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to each county in the state.