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The freezing of cells and tissue while maintaining their viability is called cryopreservation. This procedure is used at New England Fertility to store sperm, eggs, embryos, and ovarian tissue for use at a later time.
Cryobiology, the science of freezing cells and tissue, has advanced significantly over the past decade. These improvements, including a fast-freezing technique known as vitrification, now allow fertility clinics such as New England Fertility to safely freeze eggs, embryos, sperm, and ovarian tissue for prolonged periods with minimal reduction in viability.
For cryopreservation, eggs, embryos, sperm, and ovarian tissue are frozen at -196 degrees Celsius. At this temperature all cellular activities cease and egg, embryo, sperm, and ovarian tissue cells can be stored for very prolonged periods without loss of viability.
New England Fertility is one of a very few institutions worldwide where egg, embryo, ovarian tissue, and sperm freezing, including vitrification, is practiced successfully. Moreover, NEF has achieved successful full-term pregnancies using thawed frozen eggs and IVF.
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- Egg Freezing
New England Fertility is one of a very few fertility treatment centers worldwide that currently offers egg freezing, or the cryopreservation of eggs (oocytes) and embryos – that is, the freezing of eggs and embryos at very low temperature (-196° Celsius), which maintains the viability and allows for future use. New England Fertility is also a leader in producing successful full-term live pregnancies from a frozen egg.
Why Egg Freezing
- Egg freezing is recommended for various reasons, including:
- Creating an egg donor bank, thus simplifying the process of egg donation.
- Preserving eggs for future use prior to surgery or medical treatment that would negatively affect ovarian function (such as ovarian surgery or chemotherapy). Following successful therapy of the underlying condition, the eggs can be thawed and used for IVF.
- For single women who are concerned about the loss of ovarian function with age. Egg freezing allows women to preserve their reproductive potential as they age.
Following IVF the number of viable embryos often exceeds the number that is recommended for embryo transfer. The "extra" embryos can be frozen and stored, allowing couples to return for another attempt without having to undergo the ovarian stimulation or egg retrieval procedures. This significantly reduces the complexity as well as the cost of the procedure. As with egg freezing, advancements in cryobiology have improved the viability of frozen/thawed embryos to a point where there is only a minor difference in success between "fresh" and frozen embryos.
Laboratory Blood Testing
During the initial consultation, the candidate's suitability for egg or embryo freezing is discussed in detail. In addition, New England Fertility requires all patients wishing to store eggs to have the following infectious disease tests at the time of the storage:
- HIV I & II
- Hepatitis B Surface Antigen
- Hepatitis B Core Antibody
- Hepatitis C
- HTLV I & II
Note: All test results remain confidential. However, it may be necessary to report certain positive test results to the Connecticut Department of Public Help.
- Sperm Freezing
Sperm freezing has been available for many years and, as with egg freezing, is used routinely for various reasons. Here too the advancements in the field of cryobiology have improved the long-term viability of sperm following freezing. Simultaneously, recent advances in the field of oncology, urology, and reproductive biology are providing men with low sperm counts and/or facing possible sterilization with new options regarding their reproductive capabilities. These male patients may want to consider the option of semen freezing (sperm freezing) and storage prior to proceeding with any medical procedure that may result in the loss of fertility. In most instances the availability of their frozen sperm obviates the need to use a sperm donor.
Why Sperm Freezing
- Low Sperm Count
In male patients diagnosed with oligospermia (low sperm count), storing semen specimens and then using multiple samples in one intrauterine insemination (IUI) may increase the chance of pregnancy.
- Prior to Vasectomy
The option to store semen prior to vasectomy can preserve the man's fertility potential and prevent the need for reversal surgery in the event that circumstances change during the man's lifetime.
- Vasectomy Reversal
Freezing a sperm sample at the time of a vasectomy reversal has become a standard practice as it provides a fallback option in the event that the reversal procedure is unsuccessful (as often happens when the vasectomy has occurred 10 or more years before the reversal).
- Prior to Cancer-Related Therapies
Advances in the treatment of lymphomas, testicular, and other types of cancer have improved the prognosis for many cancer patients. However, these same therapies (surgery, chemotherapy,and radiation) frequently render male patients infertile. Semen cryopreservation (freezing) priorto the initiation of treatment offers the possibility of retaining reproductive capabilities.
- Prior to an IVF, GIFT, or ZIFT Procedure
For couples undergoing assisted reproductive procedures (ART), such as IVF (in vitro fertilization), GIFT (gamete intra-fallopian transfer), or ZIFT (zygote intra-fallopian transfer), on the day of egg retrieval, a sperm sample is needed in order to fertilize the eggs. In some cases, men have difficulty providing a sample, or the sample provided is low or inadequate. The availability of frozen sperm as a backup relieves much of the anxiety and ensures the best possible outcome.
Mounting evidence suggests an increased risk of birth defects associated with advanced paternal age. Freezing of sperm before the age of 50 increases the potential for a normal reproductive outcome.
- Regular Exposure to Hazardous Materials
Recent studies have shown that on-the-job exposure to radiation and/or hazardous materials (such as lead, herbicides, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals) or potential testicular injury (in the case of male athletes) can have profound health consequences, including male infertility. Freezing a semen sample insures the availability of normal sperm in the future.
Couples seeking fertility therapy occasionally find themselves limited by the male partner's schedule and his absence at the most critical time of the woman's cycle. This often leads to frustration and increased stress. The availability of frozen sperm allows the treatment process to continue without interruption even in the husband's absence.