Frozen egg donor banks sprout in wake of new technology

  • Santa Monica Fertility
  • General

Orlando Sentinel

By Nicole Brochu, Sept., 2012

 

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You’ve heard about sperm banks. Now, at long last, make room for their genetic equivalents: egg donor banks.

After years of failed attempts to effectively freeze donor eggs, a revolutionary technology has finally fine-tuned the process, giving birth to a cottage industry of banks with a growing national catalog of healthy donor eggs.

It’s all been made possible by what IVF experts consider a quantum leap in an area of reproductive medicine that has lagged behind the others.

Unlike sperm and embryo preservation, freezing fragile eggs has long proven ineffective, leaving only one option for women unable to produce their own eggs: a healthy donor willing to go through the in-vitro fertilization process with them — a time-consuming, expensive and emotionally taxing prospect.

But a revolutionary freezing technology called vitrification has allowed IVF specialists to freeze healthy eggs at a fraction of the time, half the cost and about the same success rate of the more laborious fresh egg donation process.

“This is the wave of the future,” said Dr. David Hoffman, a reproductive endocrinologist, “It’s not going to replace fresh donors right away, but it will eventually.”

The revolution came in the move away from the old technology, which used a slow freeze and thaw cycle on the fragile, small, single-cell eggs. That machinery-assisted process tended to leave ice crystals in the eggs, rupturing them or breaking the sensitive chromosomal spindles in the thaw.

With vitrification, which uses no machines, the eggs are coated in a solution and dipped into liquid nitrogen, creating a fast freeze that has over time shown itself as both durable and effective. Several studies have shown that women who receive frozen donor eggs are just as likely to have a baby as women given fresh donor eggs.

With frozen also come some undeniable benefits. While the fresh egg IVF process can cost $30,000 to $35,000, the frozen option typically costs half to a third of that, while also cutting the process from up to 12 months to about a month or two, Hoffman said.

Then there’s the emotional toll it saves the prospective mother from not having to synchronize her menstrual cycle with a willing donor so the eggs can be retrieved, fertilized and implanted, all while hoping nothing goes awry.

“It’s such an overwhelming process. Everything is incredibly timed,” said Melissa Laplant, a pediatric speech and language pathologist from Coral Springs who had her second child through a fresh egg donor three years ago. But in the first attempt, they went all the way to the egg retrieval point when further testing showed the donor eggs had a marker for a genetic disease, and the Laplants had to start over.

“That is a huge emotional factor,” she said. “So, this would be so nice, not having to wait for your donor to go through the process.”

It can also mean a swell payoff for the donor. While the going rate for sperm donations ranges from $35 to $50 per specimen, women who donate their eggs for freezing can make anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, according to the egg banks’ websites.

The typical profile for the ideal donor: a healthy non-smoker between the ages of 21 and 32.

Typically, the medical practice is responsible for screening donors according to medical and governmental guidelines, providing fertility treatments, retrieving the eggs and storing the eggs on-site for future use. Then, once the doctors submit information on the donor profile, the egg banks provide a donor database and help match recipients to stored donor eggs.

Being able to choose a donor from a national pool, just as they do in looking for the ideal sperm donor, offers infertile couples “wider and more diverse” options than ever before, Hoffman said.

 

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