Preserving Fertility By Gamete Freezing: Eggs, Embryos & Sperm

by | Sep 30, 2023 | Fertility

What is Gamete Freezing?

Gamete freezing, also known as cryopreservation, is a medical procedure that involves the preservation of reproductive cells, namely sperm and eggs (gametes), at extremely low temperatures. This innovative technique enables individuals and couples to maintain their reproductive potential by storing their gametes for future use. Whether due to medical reasons, lifestyle choices, or social circumstances, gamete freezing provides a safeguard against the potential loss of fertility and empowers individuals to plan their families on their own terms.

 

Who Needs Gamete Freezing?

  1. Medical Reasons: Gamete freezing can be a lifeline for individuals facing medical conditions or treatments that may jeopardize their fertility. Cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery often experience damage to their reproductive organs or a temporary loss of fertility. In such cases, freezing sperm or eggs before commencing treatment offers the possibility of having biological children after recovery. Moreover, individuals with autoimmune disorders or genetic conditions may opt for gamete freezing to preserve their fertility before these conditions worsen.
  2. Delayed Parenthood: In today’s world, many people choose to postpone parenthood for various reasons, such as career advancement, education, or personal development. However, female fertility significantly declines with age, making it harder to conceive naturally. Gamete freezing provides a solution by allowing women to freeze their eggs when they are in their prime reproductive years and use them when they are ready to start a family, even if it’s later in life.
  3. Social Circumstances: Lifestyle choices and relationship dynamics can also drive the need for gamete freezing. Some individuals may not have found the right partner yet but want to ensure they can still have biological children in the future. Others may want to preserve their fertility before undergoing gender transition treatments, allowing them to have biological children after transitioning.
  4. Preservation of Fertility Choices: In cases where individuals or couples are unsure about their future family planning, gamete freezing offers flexibility. It allows them to preserve their reproductive options while they make decisions about starting a family.

 

Types of Gametes Freezing

Gamete freezing comes in different forms, catering to the specific needs and circumstances of individuals and couples. The two primary types are sperm cryopreservation and egg cryopreservation.

  1. Sperm Cryopreservation: Sperm cryopreservation is a well-established and relatively straightforward procedure. It involves the collection, processing, and freezing of sperm for future use. This technique is commonly employed for several reasons:
  • Fertility Preservation: Men facing medical treatments that may harm their sperm quality or production can freeze their sperm to maintain the possibility of fathering biological children later.
  • Assisted Reproduction: Couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) may opt for sperm cryopreservation to have a readily available source of sperm for the IVF process.
  • Donor Sperm: Donor sperm banks extensively use sperm cryopreservation to store and distribute sperm to individuals and couples seeking fertility assistance.

 

  1. Egg Cryopreservation (Oocyte Cryopreservation): Egg cryopreservation is a more complex process compared to sperm freezing and has advanced significantly in recent years. It involves the following steps:
  • Ovarian Stimulation: The woman receives hormonal medications to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, as a single monthly egg release is not sufficient for freezing.
  • Egg Retrieval: When the eggs reach the desired maturity, they are retrieved using a minimally invasive procedure.
  • Cryopreservation: The eggs are then frozen using a process called vitrification, which ensures that ice crystals do not form within the cells.
  • Storage: The frozen eggs are stored until the individual is ready to use them for fertility treatment.

Egg cryopreservation is a valuable option for:

  • Women with Medical Conditions: Women facing medical conditions that may affect their ovarian function, such as cancer or autoimmune diseases, can preserve their eggs for future use.
  • Delayed Parenthood: Women who want to postpone motherhood but wish to use their younger, healthier eggs when they are ready.
  • Fertility Preservation before IVF: Women undergoing IVF may choose egg cryopreservation to store additional eggs for future IVF cycles, especially if they are at risk of reduced ovarian reserve.

 

What’s The Difference Between Egg Freezing Vs Embryo Freezing?

Egg Cryopreservation (Oocyte Cryopreservation):

Egg freezing, scientifically known as oocyte cryopreservation, involves the preservation of a woman’s unfertilized eggs. It is typically used in cases where a woman wishes to preserve her fertility for future family planning. Here’s how it works:

  1. Ovarian Stimulation: The woman undergoes a series of hormone injections to stimulate her ovaries, causing them to produce multiple mature eggs in a single cycle. This is necessary because the typical monthly release of one egg is insufficient for freezing.
  2. Egg Retrieval: Once the eggs reach maturity, they are retrieved from the woman’s ovaries through a minimally invasive procedure.
  3. Cryopreservation: The harvested eggs are then flash-frozen through a process called vitrification, which prevents the formation of ice crystals within the cells.
  4. Storage: The frozen eggs are stored until the woman is ready to use them. These eggs can later be thawed, fertilized with sperm, and implanted into the uterus through in vitro fertilization (IVF) to achieve pregnancy.

Egg freezing is often chosen by women who want to delay motherhood for various reasons, such as career development or personal circumstances. It allows them to preserve their younger, healthier eggs for use in the future, even if their natural fertility declines with age.

 Embryo Freezing (Cryopreservation)

Embryo freezing, on the other hand, involves the preservation of embryos created through IVF. This technique is typically used in the context of fertility treatment, particularly for couples who are undergoing IVF and have excess viable embryos. Here’s how embryo freezing works:

  1. IVF Procedure: In the IVF process, a woman’s eggs are retrieved and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory dish to create embryos.
  2. Embryo Development: The resulting embryos are cultured and monitored for a few days to assess their quality and development.
  3. Cryopreservation: High-quality embryos that are not immediately transferred into the woman’s uterus can be cryopreserved. Like egg freezing, embryos are preserved using vitrification.
  4. Storage: These frozen embryos can be stored for extended periods and used in subsequent IVF cycles when the couple is ready for another attempt at pregnancy.

The key distinction between egg and embryo freezing is that with egg freezing, the eggs remain unfertilized until they are thawed and fertilized, while embryo freezing involves the preservation of already fertilized embryos.

 

Is it painful to freeze eggs?

Egg freezing involves a series of medical procedures, including ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval. While these procedures are generally well-tolerated, they can cause some discomfort, but the level of pain varies from person to person.

  1. Ovarian Stimulation: The injections used to stimulate the ovaries can cause mild discomfort at the injection site and some bloating due to ovarian enlargement. However, these side effects are usually manageable.
  2. Egg Retrieval: The egg retrieval procedure is typically done under anesthesia or conscious sedation, so most women do not experience pain during the procedure itself. Some may have mild pelvic discomfort or cramping afterward, but this typically subsides within a day or two.
  3. Post-Retrieval: After the retrieval, you may experience some side effects like spotting, pelvic discomfort, or bloating for a short period, but these are usually temporary.

Overall, while there may be some discomfort associated with egg freezing, it is generally not considered overly painful, and the potential benefits in terms of preserving fertility often outweigh the temporary discomfort.

 

Is a Frozen Embryo A Baby?

No, a frozen embryo is not a baby. An embryo is the early stage of development that occurs after fertilization of an egg by sperm. It consists of a small cluster of cells that will eventually develop into a fetus if successfully implanted in the uterus and allowed to grow.

A frozen embryo is essentially a suspended state of development. It has the potential to become a baby if it is thawed, transferred to a woman’s uterus, and successfully implants. However, until it is implanted and undergoes further development, it is not considered a baby.

 

Is it Better to Freeze Eggs or Do IVF?

Whether it is better to freeze eggs or proceed with IVF depends on an individual’s specific circumstances and goals:

Egg Freezing

  1. Advantages:
    • Egg freezing is ideal for women who want to preserve their fertility for future family planning.
    • It allows women to use their younger, healthier eggs later in life, even if their natural fertility has declined.
    • It provides flexibility in terms of timing, allowing women to delay motherhood for various personal or career reasons.
  1. Considerations:
    • Egg freezing does not guarantee pregnancy. Success depends on the quality of the thawed eggs and other factors.
    • It involves a process of ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval, which may be physically and emotionally taxing for some individuals.

 

IVF (In Vitro Fertilization)

  1. Advantages:
    • IVF is a treatment option for couples or individuals struggling with infertility.
    • It offers a higher chance of pregnancy for those with certain fertility issues.
    • IVF can be used in combination with frozen eggs or embryos to achieve pregnancy.
  1. Considerations:
    • IVF is a more involved and expensive process compared to egg freezing.
    • It may not be suitable for those who wish to delay parenthood or have not yet identified a partner.

Ultimately, the choice between egg freezing and IVF depends on an individual’s unique circumstances, goals, and medical needs. Consulting with a fertility specialist can help determine the most appropriate course of action.

 

What is the cost of egg freezing in India?

On average, the cost of egg freezing in India can range from ₹50,000 to ₹150,000 (Indian Rupees) per cycle. This cost typically includes the initial consultations, hormonal medications for ovarian stimulation, the egg retrieval procedure, laboratory fees for egg freezing, and the first year of storage. Additional costs may be incurred for subsequent years of storage.

 

Side Effects of Egg Freezing

  1. Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS): This is a rare but serious side effect that can occur during or after the ovarian stimulation phase of egg freezing. OHSS is characterized by swollen and painful ovaries, abdominal discomfort, nausea, and sometimes fluid accumulation in the abdomen and chest. Severe cases may require hospitalization.
  2. Pain or Discomfort: Mild to moderate pelvic discomfort, bloating, or cramping is common during the ovarian stimulation phase and after the egg retrieval procedure.
  3. Bruising or Infection at the Injection Site: In some cases, there may be bruising, redness, or infection at the injection site where the hormonal medications are administered.
  4. Emotional Distress: The emotional aspect of egg freezing can also be a consideration. Some individuals may experience stress, anxiety, or sadness related to the process, especially if it is undertaken for medical reasons.
  5. Egg Retrieval Procedure Risks: The egg retrieval procedure itself is typically done under anesthesia, so pain during the procedure is minimal. However, as with any medical procedure, there are inherent risks associated with anesthesia and the egg retrieval process, such as bleeding or infection, although these risks are low.
  6. Failure to Retrieve Eggs: In some cases, the egg retrieval procedure may not yield the desired number of eggs, or eggs retrieved may not survive the freezing and thawing process.

It’s essential to discuss these potential side effects and risks with a fertility specialist before proceeding with egg freezing. The decision to undergo the procedure should be based on a thorough understanding of the benefits and potential drawbacks, and it should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider.

 

What is the Age Limit for Freezing Eggs?

There is no strict age limit for egg freezing, but the success rates of the procedure are influenced by the age at which a woman undergoes it. Generally, the optimal age for egg freezing is considered to be in the late 20s to early 30s. At this age, women typically have a higher number of high-quality eggs, which increases the chances of successful thawing and pregnancy later in life.

However, egg freezing can still be considered a viable option for women in their 30s and early 40s, especially if they are not yet ready to start a family and wish to preserve their fertility. It’s important to note that as a woman’s age increases, both her natural fertility and the success rates of assisted reproductive technologies like egg freezing tend to decline.

Ultimately, the decision to freeze eggs should be based on individual circumstances, medical advice, and personal reproductive goals. Fertility specialists can provide guidance on the most suitable timing for egg freezing based on a woman’s unique situation.

 

What is the Cost of Freezing Embryos?

On average, the cost of freezing embryos in the United States can range from ₹50,000 to ₹1,20,000 for the initial freezing procedure. This cost typically covers the cryopreservation of embryos and the first year of storage. Additional costs may be incurred for subsequent years of storage.

It’s important to note that the cost of embryo freezing may be part of a larger package if it is done in conjunction with in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other fertility treatments. IVF procedures, which include embryo creation and transfer, can have their own separate costs.

For the most up-to-date and specific pricing information, it is advisable to contact fertility clinics or reproductive specialists directly. They can provide detailed information about the costs associated with freezing embryos and any package deals or discounts that may be available.

 

Is Freezing Embryos Safe?

Yes, freezing embryos is generally considered safe, and the process has been used successfully in assisted reproductive technology for decades. The safety of embryo cryopreservation is attributed to advancements in cryopreservation techniques, particularly vitrification, which minimizes ice crystal formation within the cells.

However, it’s essential to recognize that no medical procedure is entirely risk-free. Some potential considerations related to embryo freezing include:

  1. Success Rates: The success of thawing and implanting frozen embryos can vary, and it may not guarantee pregnancy in all cases. Success rates can depend on factors such as the quality of the embryos and the age of the woman when the embryos were created.
  2. Multiple Pregnancies: In cases where multiple embryos are thawed and transferred, there is a risk of multiple pregnancy, which can carry its own set of challenges and health considerations.
  3. Ethical and Legal Considerations: Embryo freezing raises ethical questions, such as what should happen to embryos in the event of a divorce or if the individuals or couples no longer wish to use them.

Fertility clinics and reproductive specialists carefully follow guidelines and protocols to ensure the safety and ethical handling of frozen embryos. Individuals and couples considering embryo freezing should discuss these considerations with their healthcare providers to make informed decisions.

 

What is the Cost of Sperm Freezing in India?

On average, the cost of sperm freezing in the United States can range from ₹15,000 to ₹50,000 for the initial collection, processing, and cryopreservation of sperm. This cost often includes the first year of storage. Additional charges may apply for subsequent years of storage.

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    Dr Mona Dahiya

    Dr Mona Dahiya

    IVF Specialist & Consultant

    Dr Mona Dahiya has performed over 5,000+ IVF cycles and is considered a global expert in IVF, ICSI, IUI and male fertility treatment. She is an eminent writer on Infertility Treatment and has over 100 Publications in both International and National Journals. Dr Mona Dahiya has immensely contributed to the field of infertility through her Research and articles.

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