When my husband and I were dealing with infertility, one of the hurdles we faced was timing: timing of doctors’ appointments, timing of cycles, timing of sperm and egg being introduced in the cold white light of a laboratory. Couples going through IVF become slaves to the calendar, because until Mama’s eggs are ready, there’s nothing to do but hurry up and wait. Even when both partners’ baby making parts are all in working order, there is no getting around the scheduling. When there is a known problem with one or more of the partners, things get even more difficult.
For instance, some men have low sperm counts, or produce no semen at all (either due to a rare disorder, or due to cancer.) However, when sperm is still produced in the testicles, it can be retrieved via biopsy, and then used for IVF. In an instance like this, a single sperm is injected directly into an egg in the laboratory, rather than letting a bunch of sperm swim with an egg until one penetrates the egg on it’s own. This procedure is called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI.)
But up until recently, it was questioned whether live sperm (retrieved and implanted within 24 hours of retrieval) and frozen sperm (retrieved and cryogenically frozen for later use), were of equally viable.
A recent study published in PLOS ONE
found that not only do frozen sperm work just as well as live sperm, but also, it doesn’t matter if the sperm has been transported from one facility to another.
This is good news for scheduling! A man can have the biopsy performed at any point, convenient to his schedule, and the sperm can be frozen. Then, if he has to be out of town on business that month, for example, the frozen sperm are ready and waiting whenever ovulation and harvesting of the eggs needs to take place based on the woman’s cycle that month.
Additionally, if the couple needs to use two different doctors or clinics, that is an option, too. The couples are no longer tied to using the same clinic so that the sperm doesn’t have to travel. (Live sperm is difficult to transport because it has to be kept exactly at body temperature: too cool or too warm and the sperm die.)
Kenan Omurtag, (first study author and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis) and his colleagues looked at 15 years of data that had been gathered at the WU Infertility and Reproductive Medicine Center. Of the136 men in the study, 84% of them used frozen sperm for the ICSI procedure. The remainder of the participants used live sperm.
The frozen sperm actually had a better fertilization rate, but the most important statistic is the pregnancy success rate, which was the same between frozen and fresh. The participants also had their biopsies performed in varying locations: a room directly next to the IVF lab, in a clinic one mile from the IVF lab and others in a clinic 15 miles from the IVF lab. The distance that the frozen sperm traveled also had no effect on pregnancy success rates.
Using frozen sperm gives doctors and couples increased flexibility and options for IVF procedures, and takes one of the burdens of scheduling out of the equation.
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