Cryopreservation is a method of controlled rate cooling used to freeze oocytes, embryos, and/or sperm. The goal is to keep the cells intact by producing stable conditions that preserve life while stored at very low temperatures. Cryopreservation has become an integral part of assisted reproductive technologies and allows for many more treatment options.
Embryo and Oocyte Vitrification:
Oocyte and embryo freezing have made significant leaps in success rates over the last 5-10 years. Technological advancements have dramatically increased the survival rate of frozen embryos and frozen oocytes, and likely the most significant advance to cryopreservation is one particular method called vitrification or “flash freezing”. For embryologists, there is apprehension about freezing because the formation of ice crystals in cells can be detrimental. Vitrification greatly reduces this risk because the cooling is rapid enough to outrun the potential for intracellular ice formation.
Oocytes and embryos are frozen by the same method using a cryoprotectant with the whole process taking 10-15 minutes. The first critical component to vitrification is exposing the embryos or oocytes to a solution which causes rapid dehydration of the cells. Embryos are typically frozen at the cleaved stage (day 3) or blastocyst stage (day 5 or 6), but can also be frozen on Day-1 which is just after fertilization has occurred. Embryos are exposed to an equilibration solution for approximately 8-10 minutes while oocytes are exposed to this solution for 10-12 minutes. After this time has elapsed the embryos or oocytes are placed in the vitrification solution, which contains the cryoprotectant, for no more than 60 seconds. The embryos or oocytes are placed on a cryolock storage device then cooled as quickly as possible by submerging the cryolock in liquid nitrogen. They are stored in cryotanks until ready to be used.
The New Hope Center has offered embryo cryopreservation since the clinic opened in 1997. However, oocyte cryopreservation was not successful until the development of rapid freezing. Since vitrification has become our standard of care at New Hope, we have seen high post-thaw survival of both embryos and oocytes, which in turn, can also lead to higher pregnancy rates.
This is commonly referred to as sperm banking and just like embryos and oocytes, sperm is stored in liquid nitrogen at -196°C so it may be available for future use. There is a pre-screening process required prior to freezing a sample, to test for infection and sexually transmitted diseases.
The New Hope Center has private collection rooms available. We provide a sterile collection cup to keep the specimen as sterile as possible. An assessment of the specimen is completed prior to freezing which includes sperm count, motility, and volume. A cryoprotectant is then added to the sample. The specimen is divided out into cryovials which is typically 1-4 vials.
The New Hope Center is committed to making sperm freezing services available to our patients and their partners. In most cases, an appointment to freeze sperm can be made within 24-48 hours. Prior to the appointment, the patient should have 2-5 days abstinence (no masturbation or intercourse) prior to collection. We recommend discussing the treatment options with us so we can assist you with making a well informed decision. Men considering having their sperm cryopreserved should contact our office to request an appointment. Feel free to contact us at: (757)496-5370 or by email at Contact@thenewhopecenter.com.
Storage of Cryopreserved Specimens:
The New Hope Center offers patients storage at our facility for either short or long-term. The samples are stored onsite and are monitored closely to ensure the temperature stays cold enough to maintain freezing. There is an alarm monitoring system connected to all our cryotanks that will alert the lead embryologist at any time of the day if there is a potential issue. Although the tanks are secure and robust, there is always the possibility of a natural disaster or unforeseen equipment failure that is unfortunately unpredictable. The cryotanks do not require any power source, so a power outage or failure would not impact the tanks or samples contained. Additionally, the cryo-room has restricted access to only the embryologists and the physician.
Depending on your plan, the cost may include one year of storage in our cryotanks and at our facility. Patients planning to store their oocytes, embryos, or sperm for longer than one year, can opt to have them transferred out to a long-term storage facility that is accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks. ReproTech is one such facility that New Hope Center recommends.
Thanks to the development of cryopreservation, it is possible to preserve the ability to procreate. Fertility preservation is for both male and females. In the past, women wanting to preserve their fertility had no real viable options for doing so. Vitrification of oocytes is a wonderful option that is now available for women diagnosed with illnesses, such as cancer, to preserve their fertility before undergoing invasive treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Any male who is at risk for fertility issues should consider freezing sperm. This includes but is not limited to: men diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy/radiation, pre-vasectomy, high risk occupations, and other fertility preservation.
In addition, transgender females or males can have their oocytes or sperm cryopreserved prior to beginning hormone treatment, for future use in having their own genetic child.
We believe in supporting our local military personnel who are preparing to deploy and would like to freeze and store their sperm before doing so. Anyone who is at risk for fertility issues should consider freezing their oocytes or sperm, and possibly embryos. The New Hope Center is here to help you through this process and will gladly answer any questions you have about the process. To schedule an appointment with our office and discuss this option, please contact us by Phone: (757)496-5370 or Email: Contact@thenewhopecenter.com.
Costs Associated with Cryopreservation and Storage
There are various fees associated with the storage of cryopreserved specimens. The fees are subject to the type of sample that is frozen. Depending on the treatment plan selected, a portion of the storage may be included with the initial freezing costs. Most insurance companies do not cover the annual cost of continuing storage, but it is always a good idea to contact your plan carrier and check. The majority of the cost for continued storage is accounted for by the requirements to maintain keeping the storage tanks at -196°C. The price for cryopreservation can be very costly, but financial assistance options are available. To contact our office to discuss storage fees, please contact us by Phone: (757)496-5370 or Email: Contact@thenewhopecenter.com.