Cutting Technology (Vitirification) Helping Women’s Fertility by Dr. Rebecca Matthews, Laboratory Manager
What does this mean for women?
There are many instances when egg freezing can be used to help preserve fertility. It has become very common for women to delay having children for a number of reasons (the most common reason given is not being able to find “Mr. Right”), but feels her biological clock ticking, or if a woman has a serious illness and treatment may leave her infertile (e.g. cancer treatment). It is important to know that a woman’s fertility is at its peak at around 27 and slowly declines from this point until menopause. There is a significant decline in a woman’s fertility from around 35 which becomes even more significant from 38 onwards – by the age of 40 approximately 90% of eggs produced by a woman are abnormal.
In order to assist women preserve there fertility eggs can be frozen in liquid nitrogen and can then be stored indefinitely – they are there to be used when you want. Unlike a woman who continues to age, the eggs that have been frozen when she was 32 stay the same age that they were when they were frozen. So what does all this mean? It means that a woman freezing her eggs at 32 who then wants a baby at 40, has a much higher chance of having a healthy pregnancy and baby using her 32 year old frozen eggs than she would if she were to try with her own 40 year old eggs.
Is it safe?
So far there have been only a thousand or so babies born from vitrified eggs (with 6 babies being born at the fertility clinic that Rebecca worked at in the United States so she has first hand experience). When choosing a clinic that is offering egg freezing it is important to ask how many babies they have had born from this technique and how much experience the scientists have had with this technique. Babies born from this technique appear to be perfectly healthy. When a new technique is used, any potential long term effects are obviously not know, but historical use of egg/embryo freezing leaves us confident that this method is safe.
What does a woman have to do to freeze her eggs?
A woman needs to undergo a modified IVF cycle so that a number of eggs can be collected and frozen for future use. This involves the use of medications to stimulate the ovaries to produce many eggs at one time. These eggs are surgically removed once they have reached full maturity and are placed into liquid nitrogen for storage.
When a woman is ready to try for a pregnancy, the eggs are thawed and fertilized using a technique known as ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) where a single sperm is injected directly into an egg. The fertilised egg(s) is then cultured in the lab for several days and when it reaches a certain stage of development is transferred into the uterus as an embryo(s).
The goal of egg freezing is to attempt to preserve some fertility in women at riks of declining fertility. It is important to emphasise that this technology is still in the developmental stages and does not guarantee a pregnancy or a baby.
Dr. Rebecca Matthews, BSc, PhD, joined Fertility Solutions Sunshine Coast and Bundaberg in August 2010 and plays a pivotal role in the laboratory management. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of Manchester. As part of her degree course she spent a year working for the Forensic Science research laboratories in Birmingham, England, where she looked at a novel DNA fingerprinting technique. Rebecca began her career in clinical embryology in 1998 in Leeds, in the north of England. Rebecca is also the author of the book IVF: A Patients Guide, In press. A 130-page informational guide for patients undergoing fertility treatments. If you have further questions for Rebecca, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org