The Frozen Future: Exploring the World of Cryopreservation

 The Frozen Future: Exploring the World of Cryopreservation

Dr Duru Shah

In today’s rapidly evolving world of reproductive technology, cryopreservation, or the freezing of embryos, eggs, and sperm, has become a hot topic of discussion. It raises important questions about the potential harm to embryos, the well-being of children born from frozen cells, and the reasons for and timing of cryopreservation. Let’s delve into these complex issues to gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating field.

Is there any harm to the embryos if frozen?
Cryopreservation, the process of preserving embryos by freezing them at ultra-low temperatures, has revolutionized the field of assisted reproductive technology (ART). However, a critical concern that many individuals have is whether freezing embryos can harm them. Earlier Freezing was carried out through “Slow Freezing” which did not give good results. But with “Vitrification” which is rapid freezing, the results are excellent.
The short answer is that properly frozen embryos are generally safe and robust. Embryos are frozen at a stage when they are just a few days old, typically at the blastocyst stage. The freezing process effectively halts their development, preventing any damage. Embryos can remain in this suspended state for years without significant loss of viability. The process used to freeze embryos, known as vitrification, minimizes the formation of ice crystals within the cells, which could potentially damage them.
However, it’s essential to choose a reputable and experienced fertility clinic to ensure that the freezing and thawing processes are carried out correctly. When embryos are thawed and transferred to the uterus, there is a chance of implantation failure, but this is often unrelated to the freezing process and can occur with fresh embryos as well.

What about the children born out of frozen cells?
Children conceived from frozen embryos, eggs, or sperm are as healthy as those conceived naturally or through fresh ART cycles. A wealth of scientific studies and anecdotal evidence supports the safety and well-being of children born through cryopreservation. The technology has evolved to a point where there is no significant difference in the health or development of children born from frozen cells.
It’s also worth noting that cryopreservation can offer several advantages to prospective parents. For instance, it allows couples to time their pregnancies more conveniently and can be a lifeline for individuals facing medical conditions that may affect their fertility, such as cancer treatments. For them, cryopreserved eggs or sperm can provide a glimmer of hope for future parenthood.

When and why should you freeze your eggs?
Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, has gained popularity in recent years for various reasons. It’s a viable option for women who are not ready to have children but want to preserve their fertility.
Age: Women have a finite number of eggs, and the quantity and quality of these eggs decline with age. Freezing eggs at a younger age can help ensure a better chance of a successful pregnancy later in life. Aging of eggs in Indian women occurs around age 35 years and above. Hence it is a good idea to freeze before that age if there is no possibilities having a baby prior to that age.
Medical reasons: Certain medical conditions and treatments, like cancer therapy, can jeopardize a woman’s fertility. Freezing eggs before undergoing such treatments can be a crucial step in preserving the possibility of future motherhood.
Delayed family planning: Career, education, and personal goals can sometimes lead women to delay family planning having babies. Egg freezing provides flexibility in reproductive timing.
Unsettled relationships: In cases where a woman is not in a stable relationship or does not wish to rush into parenthood, egg freezing can offer peace of mind.

When and why should you freeze your sperm?
While egg freezing is often discussed, sperm freezing, or sperm cryopreservation, is equally vital, especially for men facing various life circumstances.
Medical issues: Just as with women, men may face medical conditions or treatments such as for Cancer, that can negatively impact their fertility. Storing sperm before medical procedures can ensure the option of future fatherhood.
Age: While men do not experience the same age-related fertility decline as women, sperm quality can deteriorate with age. Freezing sperm at a younger age can be a proactive step, the age limit when sperms can start deteriorating is anywhere between 45 -50 years of age.
During Fertility treatment: For couples undergoing fertility treatment, sperm freezing can serve as a backup plan in case fresh sperm samples are not viable or accessible during assisted reproductive procedures. There are some men who are not able to produce sperms on demand or due to anxiety, or they may be unable to reach the ART clinic when needed. In such situations it is a good idea to have a backup sample which could be used as an option.

In conclusion, the world of cryopreservation offers promising possibilities for individuals and couples seeking to safeguard their reproductive options. When performed correctly, the freezing of embryos, eggs, and sperm poses minimal risks and has led to the birth of healthy children. The decision to freeze reproductive cells should be guided by individual circumstances, medical considerations, and personal preferences. In a world where family planning is increasingly flexible, cryopreservation is a valuable tool that empowers individuals to take control of their reproductive futures.

Dr Duru Shah is Director, Gynaecworld



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