BACKGROUND: It's estimated one in six couples in the United States struggle with infertility. A small percentage of those couples turn to in vitro fertilization. IVF is where the sperm and egg are combined in a laboratory dish. Fertilization takes place with embryos as the intended result. Often some of the embryos are then implanted into the woman, while others are kept frozen.
There has been some controversy because it is believed there are more than 100,000 frozen embryos in tanks around the United States. For couples that are uncomfortable with the idea of freezing embryos, doctors are now having some success using a technique called oocyte cryopreservation, more commonly known as egg freezing.
EGG FREEZING: For years, doctors have been able to produce successful pregnancies with frozen embryos, however, doctors often considered eggs alone too fragile to freeze. The problem is the potential damage from ice crystallization during the freezing process. Researchers around the world have been trying to perfect egg freezing. A new research protocol has shown success in Italy.
Now, Jeffrey Boldt, Ph.D., from Community Hospital in Indianapolis, says they have also had success. In order to prevent damage to the egg, doctors treat the egg with chemicals. These chemicals help extract water from the egg to prevent ice crystals from forming during freezing.
Dr. Boldt says early results are promising. He says they've had a 75 percent egg survival after thawing. Among those thawed, there has been a 60 percent fertilization rate. So far, 13 women have had embryos implanted and four have become pregnant. A number of other women have also been implanted and doctors are waiting before they confirm success.
BENEFICIAL TO MANY: Egg freezing could be beneficial to more than just infertile couples. It could allow women to preserve eggs if they risk losing reproductive function through treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation. It could also be beneficial to women who want to freeze eggs at a young age for pregnancies later in life, thus reducing the risk of age related infertility and birth defects.
STILL EARLY RESEARCH: While the success doctors are having using frozen eggs to make embryos is exciting, doctors caution it is just preliminary success. Dr. Boldt believes there is still a great deal more work to be done to confirm the procedure is effective and safe. While no birth defects or chromosomal abnormalities have been detected to date, it will take many more births to solidify success. Dr. Boldt says the next step it to determine how to optimize fertilization in terms of when to fertilize the egg and other subtle variations.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Assisted Fertility Services of Community Health Network
8040 Clearvista Parkway, Suite 510
Indianapolis, IN 46256
(800) 866-3599, (317) 355-2229