A young boy with an inoperable brain tumour has become the first in the UK to have testicular tissue frozen so that he has a chance of having his own children when he grows up.
Nathan Crawford from Cornwall needs chemo and radiotherapy for his cancer, but the aggressive treatment may also leave him infertile.
Doctors hope they can avoid this by re-implanting the frozen wedge of tissue when he is a teenager.
A similar technique helps girls.
Earlier this year – in a world first – a Belgian woman had a baby using re-implanted ovarian tissue that had been frozen when she was still a child.
The surgical team from the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford treating Nathan have high hopes that the method they are using will work if Nathan ultimately needs it – there’s an 80% chance that he will.
The technique is new and there have been no live births yet using stored pre-pubertal testicular tissue.
The tissue he has had frozen contains immature cells that, during puberty, should start making sperm once they have been thawed and re-implanted.
Nathan had half an hour of keyhole surgery for the tissue to be retrieved from one of his testicles.
His stepfather, Jonathan Alison, said Nathan had coped well with the procedure.
“Once he’d been up to Oxford to have the testicular tissue removed, he was back home in Cornwall within 48 hours eating fish and chips with us.
“He’s very much looking forward to Christmas and we couldn’t be prouder of the way he has taken it all in his stride.”
His doctors are hopeful that his cancer treatment will shrink his brain tumour, a type of tumour called a glioma.
Dr Sheila Lane, a consultant at the John Radcliffe, said: “These tumours can possibly be cured with intensive chemotherapy. Patients can have a long and happy life without any problems.”
The NHS does not fund the freezing of testicular or ovarian tissue needed to let patients have their own children.
But a cash donation from fertility firm IVI has helped create a national service for England and Wales, housed at the hospital in Oxford.
Dr Lane hopes the service will help many other children.
Each year in the UK there are around 1,500 new cases of childhood cancer in people under 15. And cancer treatment leaves around one in 10 infertile.
Kate Lee of CLIC Sargent, the children and young people’s cancer support charity, said: “Every year, thousands of parents who receive the devastating news that their child has cancer can then face additional worries that their child’s life-saving treatment could leave them unable to have their own family.
“Although at this early stage it is difficult to predict how successful this new technique will be, it is certainly a fantastic opportunity for the young boy and family involved, and a positive step forward.”