Cryopreservation refers to the process of storing living tissues, cells or organs at temperatures below freezing in order to preserve them for future use. The realm of science fiction has made the idea of cryopreservation popular, with the application of cryopreservation in long-term space travel or cleverly depicted as a method of time travel. Science is still a long ways away from making these types of fictional applications of cryopreservation a reality. In medicine, however, cryopreservation is far from fiction and has valuable and highly successful applications – especially when used in fertility treatment.
In fertility treatment, cryopreservation can be used to extend an individual’s reproductive abilities into a later age, preserve healthy reproductive cells and tissues through cancer treatments and cryopreservation can even be used during active fertility treatments and in vitro fertilization cycles to improve the chances of conception, successful pregnancy and the success rate of future treatment cycles.
1. What is Cryopreservation and What Are Its Applications?
In fertility treatment, specifically, cryopreservation refers to the process of freezing viable sperm, oocytes (eggs) or embryos to preserve them for later use. Cryopreservation uses a specific laboratory process overseen by an embryologist to freeze, store and later thaw these biological tissues –in a manner which does not damage them – for use.
In fertility treatment, cryopreservation reduces the number of oocyte or sperm extractions required, depending on the couple’s preferences and unique fertility treatment needs. Using cryopreservation allows a couple to complete more in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles without the need to create new embryos each cycle.
2. Who Should Consider Utilizing Cryopreservation?
Commonly men and women who are of a reproductive age and facing cancer treatments will utilize cryopreservation to preserve their ability to start a family with healthy reproductive cells (oocytes or sperm) after undergoing treatments. Women also often utilize cryopreservation to preserve healthy eggs in order to improve chances of conception later in life.
Couples in fertility treatment can use cryopreservation to preserve embryos for use in a future IVF cycle, eliminating the need to extract eggs or sperm to create fresh embryos during each cycle. Utilizing cryopreservation and frozen embryo transfer during fertility treatments has a number of benefits.
3. What is a Frozen Embryo Transfer?
A frozen embryo transfer (FET) is the process of completing an IVF cycle using frozen embryos which remain from a previous IVF cycle. Preserving excess embryos allows a couple to complete additional IVF cycles following an unsuccessful pregnancy attempt or even after a successful pregnancy and birth. This means the couple will not have to harvest new eggs during every IVF cycle and pregnancy attempt. Using cryopreservation to save embryos for future use assures the availability of high quality embryos for future implantation. It also reduces the cost of multiple IVF cycles and the number of preparatory appointments couples need to attend for a successful IVF cycle and embryo implantation.
IVF cycles completed using frozen embryo transfers have nearly the same success rates as IVF cycles using fresh embryos. Although there is a small chance that cells could be damaged during the process of freezing and thawing, the process of cryopreservation, as used with embryos, is safe and highly successful with a 95% embryo survival rate. In addition, successfully transferred frozen embryos result in healthy babies with the same number of birth defects as babies conceived naturally.
Discuss the Risks and Benefits of Cryopreservation with an Experienced Doctor or Fertility Counselor
Cryopreservation is a safe process, however, preservation has variable success rates depending on whether the patient is preserving sperm, eggs or embryos for future use. If you are considering utilizing cryopreservation to store sperm, eggs or to preserve embryos for use in a later IVF cycle, we encourage you to discuss your options with an experienced fertility doctor and/or counselor. At Viera Fertility Center, our team of fertility specialists can help you determine the fertility treatment course which will best complement your own personal family building goals and values.