What are egg, sperm and embryo freezing, what are the reasons behind doing this and how does this work? Find out more here.
There are so many reasons to want to freeze your eggs, sperm or embryos. Perhaps you haven’t yet met the right partner, you are pursuing a career, you have a high risk job or you have a medical condition and are about to undergo treatment which may affect your future fertility.
IVF is absolutely an option for people who know they may want a family at some point in their lives, but are not quite ready to start a family right now. As egg and sperm quality reduces with age, there is the option to freeze your eggs, embryos or sperm, allowing you to start a family when you’re ready.
After an assessment with your doctor, you will begin the IVF procedure; down regulation and ovarian stimulation, monitoring and egg collection. After egg collection, your mature eggs are washed and prepared in the laboratory for freezing. Once frozen, the eggs are stored in a secure tank containing liquid nitrogen in a state of ‘suspended animation’ in which the normal processes of biological degradation are halted.
When you are ready to start your family, your eggs will be thawed. They will be removed from storage and warmed through a series of liquids, which help restore the natural condition of the egg. All surviving eggs will be fertilised by ICSI and the resulting embryos will be cultured for between two and five days, after which one or two will be selected for transfer to the uterus.
Prior to freezing, you will be required to have some screening tests, including HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, in accordance with HFEA recommendations. You will then be invited to your clinic to produce semen samples to be frozen and stored.
The semen samples are mixed with a liquid known as cryoprotectant and stored in small containers in liquid nitrogen. There are many types of treatment available when you decide to use the stored sperm for treatment with a partner. Your treatment options will depend on the quality of the sperm stored, the number of samples available and your partner’s fertility.
After an assessment with your doctor, you will begin the IVF procedure; down regulation and ovarian stimulation, monitoring, egg collection and fertilisation. The embryos of suitable quality will then be frozen.
Before the storage process begins, your clinic will ask you to sign consent forms to determine how long you want the embryos to be stored (the standard period is ten years). You also need to be clear with your decisions about what should happen to your embryos if you or your partner were to die or become unable to make decisions for yourself. You also need to decide whether the embryos are to be used for your own treatment only, or whether they can be donated for someone else’s treatment, or used for research. All of these decisions are listed in the consent forms.
In some cases, such as cancer, the best time to preserve fertility is before the treatment starts. It is important to discuss this with your doctor as soon as possible after your diagnosis. Click here for further advice on this and the effects on fertility for women, click here for further information for men.