A discovery by Hudson Institute researchers has shed more light on the causes of testicular cancer and male infertility – and provided a potential new target for treatment.
Professor Kate Loveland said the discovery has important implications for boosting male fertility, and for treating men with testicular cancer, especially those who experience a relapse and poor prognosis.
The study is the first to document the importance of a cell signalling pathway-crucial for embryonic development-to male fertility and testis cancer.
Lead researcher, Prof Loveland said the pathway-called WNT signalling-plays an active role during sperm development, and is also present in precursor tumour cells that turn into cancerous cells.
Prof Loveland said the discovery, published in the journal Andrology, was crucial to better understand rising infertility and testicular cancer rates, and developing treatments to combat these.
“Discovering the fundamental processes required to make healthy sperm is essential knowledge for reversing the increasing frequency of infertility and testicular cancer,” Prof Loveland said.
Infertility affects one in 20 Australian couples, with half of cases attributed to the male partner, often with an unknown cause. One in 25 Australian babies are conceived by IVF.
Testicular cancers from reproductive cells are the most common solid tumour type found in young men aged 19 to 44. This type of cancer has been increasing by two per cent a year for the past 50 years.
Prof Loveland said the discovery provided the opportunity to test treatment drugs that act on this pathway, to help boost fertility or block testicular tumour development.
“Our studies in the lab provide evidence that blocking this pathway should be evaluated to reduce growth and proliferation of testicular cancer cells,” Prof Loveland said.
“Most young men – 95 per cent – who get testicular germ cell (reproductive) tumours can be ‘cured’ with surgery and chemotherapy, but the prognosis is poor for men who relapse,” she said.
“This study is the first to document the importance of WNT signalling to human male fertility and testis cancer. We are investigating this further in collaboration with our international and local clinical partners.”
Monash University, Institute of Life and Growth, Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, Denmark)