In September 2012 the American Society of Reproductive Medicine declared that the freezing of human eggs is “no longer experimental”.
The significance of this declaration is that science and medicine finally mastered the egg freezing process or “cryopreservation” of mature human eggs that are ready for fertilization. It was a game-changer for fertility preservation.
These very delicate cells whose chromosomes are stretched out on what is called the spindle (think high school biology), defied reliable egg freezing until newer technologies developed. Simply said, as egg freezing occurs, the ice crystals form inside the cells and tear the delicate inner structures apart, injuring the cells.
The new method called “vitrification” is basically a flash freeze technique that avoids the formation of ice crystals. And so, now that freezing eggs is reliable, it can be offered to patients, and this has spawned a proliferation of this service offered by fertility specialists.
There are several groups of people who will be candidates and could benefit from egg freezing.
First, are those women whose egg supplies are depleted and require eggs from a donor. Until now, egg donation was difficult since a donor had to be found and then removal of the eggs had to be timed with the mother-to-be. This led to many logistical difficulties in the egg freezing cycle, including travel and matching the hormonal cycles of the egg donor and recipients.
Now, faster than you can imagine “Egg Banks” are springing up where eggs have been previously collected and frozen. Patients can choose from a menu or catalog just like they can for donor sperm at a sperm bank. The frozen egg can be shipped to your local fertility center, while some more proprietary egg freezing banks demand that you travel to them. This eliminates so many of the headaches of working with an active donor and possibly reduces the cost of providing frozen eggs to the women who need them for in vitro fertilization.
The second group to benefit, and that is actually being targeted by advertising campaigns, are women over 30 years old who do not have any immediate plans to start a family. Ten percent of women at age 30 and 25% of women at age 35 meet the criteria of “low egg reserve”. If they are not on the short-term path to starting a family, they can freeze multiple eggs so as to be able to preserve or delay pregnancy until they are ready.
Perhaps they are busy building a career or still in school or maybe “Mr. Right” has so far eluded them. If they have not given up hope of finding that person, they can preserve unfertilized eggs and store them until they are ready to make a baby.
The third group is young women, such as recent college graduates. In fact, it is their parents and grandparents who are being approached and marketed to provide these women in their early twenties with an “insurance policy”. Rather than give the recent graduate a gift or cash, “give them a gift of life” by paying to have them cryopreserve their eggs in the hope that they will never need to use them for a successful pregnancy.
There are other women who will benefit from this, such as women who are at high risk for ovarian or breast cancer and need their ovaries removed at a young age. Perhaps suddenly a woman may discover that she needs to undergo toxic anticancer treatments for let’s say leukemia that could injure her egg supply. And there are others.
As a result, there has been a boom in the fertility treatment world of programs offering to store your eggs as an insurance policy against delayed childbearing. This advance also is changing how women who need viable egg donors acquire them. Today picking an egg donor is as easy as choosing a sperm donor.
What changed? The issue is the fact that mature eggs are locked into a very fragile state:
The chromosomes are strung out in this very delicate structure, waiting for the sperm to enter the cell. As the water in the cell freezes, ice crystals form, expand and injure the egg. The process of “vitrification”, a rapid freezing technique prevents ice crystals from forming and now allows for a successful freeze/thaw cycle. At Fertility Partnership we can successfully freeze and thaw close to 90% of mature eggs, and in typical FP fashion, we offer this treatment at a more affordable cost.
So if you are in no rush to start your family but want to preserve your fertility, think about freezing eggs. The process will take about a week of your time (if you are from out of town) and the eggs can remain frozen indefinitely. It is a safe and proven technique and when you want to use them, Fertility Partnership will be happy to ship them wherever you may be if you so choose.
At my clinic, Fertility Partnership, a leader in fertility preservation, we offer a round of egg retrieval, egg freezing, and a year of storage for five thousand dollars. Two rounds will cost eight thousand dollars. These costs do not include fertility medication, which is, unfortunately, generally not covered by insurance companies. The technology is simple and reliable, and with our society changing the life path of so many women, this technology is already being quickly accessed by many women who wish to control their fertility destiny.
For more information about any of our assisted reproductive technology from your local fertility specialist, contact us and we will be happy to help you. We also provide fertility testing.
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