Parenthood Dreams Through Vitrification

March 15, 2011

new baby and momThis guest article is from our friends at Laurel Fetility Clinic, a local fertility practice with offices in Mill Valley, San Francisco, and Modesto. Visit them online at www.laurelfertility.com.

Vitrification is the latest method for freezing unfertilized eggs to preserve fertility options for hopeful mothers. “This cutting edge practice is still fairly new and not many programs are doing it,” commented Laurel Fertility Care Lab Director Dr. Marlane Angle, PhD. “However, survival rates using vitrification are much higher for eggs and embryos when compared to previous freezing methods like slow cooling.”

Why Choose Vitrification?

“It's the technology of the future,” commented Dr. Angle. “People, especially women, need this and are asking for it. We were originally used fertility preservation for women undergoing cancer treatment. These women often experience fertility challenges following radiation or chemotherapy. If these women preserve their fertility before cancer treatment, they have a much better chance of conception down the road.”

Even if a woman isn’t going through a life threatening process like chemotherapy, vitrification is still a great option. “Mothers who are really invested in their careers or feel like the clock is ticking are prime candidates,” observed Dr. Angle. “Women have a much better chance of getting pregnant at age 25 verses age 35 and age 35 verses age 40. Preserving your fertility at an early age will provide options ahead.”

A group that often requests egg vitrification includes patients for whom there is no sperm available, whether this means that male partner is unable to produce sperm on the day that it is required or because the patient has no male partner. Freezing women’s eggs allows time and flexibility to get sperm. Time no longer controls the hopeful parents or contributes additional stress. “Vitrification finally provides people with options to safely preserve parenthood until the time is right.” remarked Dr. Angle, “Becoming proactive now will improve options for parents and the lives of their future children.”

Slow cooling vs. Vitrification

Until recently, options for preserving fertility were limited to slow cooling. Though this process works well for preserving sperm, damaging ice crystals can form inside larger cells, such as eggs. The ice crystals can physically damage the egg during the thawing process. The minimal success rates of slow cooling have pushed scientists like Dr. Angle to use vitrification. “Vitrification reduces the formation of ice crystals found in slow cooling. Rapidly dropping the temperatures inside of eggs within milliseconds results in cooling the egg to preserve it and by-passes the time required for the formation of ice.” described Dr. Angle, “The very rapid cooling allows us to freeze the egg in its current state."

History of Cryopreservation

The idea came from watching nature, specifically frogs and fish. Scientists questioned how Arctic fish could be swimming in and around frozen icebergs, becoming frozen themselves yet live through these conditions. This led to the discovery of cryoprotection, the ability to drop body temperatures quickly enough to preserve the current status. As scientists researched further, they mimicked cryoprotection by developing a slow cooling freezing process. This led to the first successful slow cooling cryopreservation of mice embryos in 19721. Then in 1983, the first human pregnancy was reported after using slow cooling cryopreservation2. However, the pregnancy was terminated due to complications during the egg’s development. During this time, researchers Greg Fahy and William Rall reported a new way of cryopreservation, vitrification3. Since Fahy and Rall’s discovery of vitrification, multiple studies have shown that survival rates double using vitrification versus slow cooling have doubled4.

For more information on vitrification and how it can help preserve your parenting options, please call Laurel Fertility Care at 415.673.9199 or email info@laurelfertility.com

More Resources and Additional Reading:

1 Whittingham DG, Leibo SP, Mazur P. "Survival of mouse embryos frozen to -196 degrees and -269 degrees C." Science. 1972; 178: 411–414.
2 Trounson A, Mohr L. "Human pregnancy following cryopreservation, thawing and transfer of an eight-cell embryo." Nature. 1983; 305: 707–709
3 Rall WF, Fahy GM. "Ice-free cryopreservation of mouse embryos at -196 degrees C by vitrification." Nature. 1985; 313: 573–575
4 Kuc, P, Kuczynska, A, Stankiewicz, B, Sieczynski, P, Matysiak, J, Kuczynski, W. "Vitrification vs. slow cooling protocol using embryos cryopreserved in the 5th or 6th day after oocyte retrieval and IVF outcomes." Folia Histochem Cytobiol, 2010 January 1; 48(1): 84-8. PubMed PMID: 20529821.