A dozen British men have had a pioneering testicular transplant operation aimed at restoring fertility after cancer therapy. The men had tissue removed and frozen before their chemotherapy, then re-implanted as part of a radical attempt to re-establish fertility.

A dozen British men have had a pioneering testicular transplant operation aimed at restoring fertility after cancer therapy. The men had tissue removed and frozen before their chemotherapy, then re-implanted as part of a radical attempt to re-establish fertility.

Doctors and scientists at the University of Manchester and the nearby Christie Hospital are waiting to see whether the experimental operation has restored sperm production.

If the trial works, it will be the first time a testicular tissue transplant has revived sperm production in a sterile man.

Details of the trial were given yesterday at a fertility conference in Edinburgh. The project has been led by Professor John Radford, consultant physician and senior lecturer in clinical oncology at the Christie. Professor Roger Gosden, a specialist on human reproduction at McGill University in Montreal, said few details of the research had emerged, and it has yet to be published by a scientific journal. The work involves extracting sperm-producing stem cells from tubules in the testes responsible for making the semen.

Professor Gosden said: "It's too early to tell [whether the experiment has worked] because the transfers of the cells started only six or eight months ago and we expect repopulation would take quite a long time because the stem cells multiply quite slowly. So we might not know for a year or two." The work will be especially valuable for pre-pubescent boys who have cancer treatment. The present study has involved only young men.

"They decided on ethical grounds that the first trials should be done on young adults because although we store semen for these men anyway they would then have a second option," said Professor Gosden. "By doing the trial on young adults you get the answer quicker. If you did it on children you might have to wait 10 years before you did the reimplantation."

He is working on a complementary approach transferring whole tubules, rather than the individual stem cells, with under-skin transplants so sperm could be retrieved for artificial insemination.

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