Semen / sperm freezing
Introduction of Sperm Freezing
Cryopreservation is the term used to describe the process of freezing and storing sperm, eggs or surplus embryos from an in vitro fertilization cycle.
Also known as Semen cryopreservation, Sperm Freezing, is a procedure that helps store the sperm cells to be used later. People opt for this procedure for several reasons. For instance, if the patient undergoes medical treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation, it may damage the quality and the quantity of the sperm. Hence, if the sperm is successfully stored in a bank, the patient can use it, donate it, etc. Did you know, the longest reported successful storage of the human sperm is 24 years?
Today, there are two procedures available to store the sperm. One is the slow cooling method, where the semen is frozen at a controlled rate with slow programmable freezing (SPF) and the second procedure is a new technique known as vitrification. It is a flash-freezing procedure, where the post-thaw motility and cryo-survival is higher when compared to SPF.
Embryos can be frozen at the pronuclear stage (one cell), or at any stage after that up to and including the blastocyst stage (5-7 days after fertilization). Different cryoprotectants and freezing solutions and protocols are used for different stages of embryo development. Many IVF clinics freeze their embryos at the blastocyst stage.
Although technology has been thriving in the recent times,freezing sperm , and artificial insemination is not so modern as we would like to think. It all dates back to the year 1779, where an Italian priest and phycologist, Lazzaro Spallanzani performed an experiment, which was explicitly revolutionary.
Before him, our knowledge of reproduction was very limited, and we compared it to that of plants, i.e. the embryo was because of the male seed and like the soil nurtures the seeds, the embryo is natured in the womb. But, because of Spallanzani’s experiment, we realized that for an embryo to develop and mature, a physical contact between the egg and the sperm is necessary. With this new-found information, Spallanzani inseminated frogs, fish, and even dogs.
At first, some doctors were not comfortable using the frozen sperms for donor insemination. Since, the research at that time had concluded that only fresh sperm can help a woman get pregnant, the doctors thought this was futile. Over the years, with the help of new research, sperm freezing started becoming norm. But, it was only after identifying AIDS that more people were keen on using frozen sperms or freezing their sperms.
During yesteryears, an infertile couple had only one option and that was adoption. But today, with the help of sperm freezing and more, the infertile couples have several options.
Why freezing sperm is performed?
There can be various reasons why one chooses to freeze their sperm. It includes;
- To be used for sperm donation process
- If someone is undergoing a vasectomy and wants to have an option where he can have children later in life
- If he is suffering from a disease like cancer and must undergo chemotherapy or radiation, which can deplete the sperm count and decrease the quality
- If the medical treatments that he must undergo may compromise his fertility
- If you have low sperm count and your sperm quality is deteriorating
- If you are at a risk of experiencing an injury or even death. For instance, if you are in the armed forces and maybe are deployed to a war zone.
- To be able to have children later in life, etc.
How freezing sperm is performed?
- You need to go through a careful screening for HIV, HBV, HCV, etc. to avoid any chances of infection.
- You need to give a written consent regarding what will happen to your sperm if you cannot make decisions for yourself or in case of sudden death, such as if anybody can use your sperm, such as your partner or for research or if it can be donated for somebody else’s treatment and for how long you want to store your sperm.
The standard time for storing a sperm is 10 years, but you can extend the storage time up to 55 years. Before doing that, your Andrologist will check the condition of the sperm in one of the vials and help you decide the fate of the frozen sperm.
- The specialists will first ask you to provide a semen sample.
- Once the sample is collected, it is placed on a warming block that is 37 degrees Celsius. They do it in order to turn the sperm into liquid.
- Here, your semen sample will be mixed in a ratio 1:1 with a freezing medium as this method will allow the sperm to stay alive during the freezing and storing procedure.
- The semen sample is frozen in liquid nitrogen vapors. After the sample has been frozen, special containers are used to store them and are stored in liquid nitrogen, until the time they are needed.
- One ejaculation can produce about 6 vials.
- Each vial is labeled properly with the patient’s name, date, and a unique number designed for them.
- This information is used to catalog your sample correctly.
In today’s day and age, sperm freezing has opened opportunities for several individuals to father a child once they are settled and comfortable in life. Some of the other benefits include;
- Advancing age
- Low sperm count or quality
- Medical reasons
- If someone is undergoing a sex-change operation
The main concern while freezing the sperm is that it might not survive freezing and thawing. Nevertheless, since the quantity of sperm is appropriate in most ejaculations, the survival rate of the sperm is also higher. However, when the sperm is collected naturally, i.e. through masturbation, then there are no side-effects or risks. But, if it is done through surgery, the patient might experience discomfort, bleeding, etc.
1.How long can the sperm be stored?
There is no certain time limit for it. It can be stored for almost 20 years. But, each sperm bank will have rules and regulations of their own. Hence, it is better you talk to the specialist.
2.How much is a normal ejaculation?
1.5 to 5 milliliters
3.How many samples of semen should one freeze?
It is usually recommended to at least freeze two samples. However, the choice is completely yours. You should further discuss your medical history and more with your specialist, as they will be able to guide you better.
4.How long should one wait between ejaculations?
Before you are scheduled to give a sperm sample, you must not ejaculate for at least 2-5 days. However, some men are requested to wait for even longer periods. Therefore, talk to your specialist once.
5.What if the preserved samples have low sperm count and concentration?
There are chances that the hospital or sperm bank doesn’t preserve the sample accordingly. Therefore, always choose one of the best banks to avoid problems in the future. Also, if the sperm quality and quantity is low, it is not an issue. This is because the fertility specialists perform IVF procedures with even minimum healthy sperms.
6.How can I be sure that the sample the clinic claims to be mine is actually mine?
The container in which your sample is collected is labeled with your name, date, unique identification no, etc. We will cross check everything and handle it with care. And, only certified andrology technicians only handle the samples.
7.What blood test do I need?
Before you freeze the sperm, you are required to have HIV ½ Antibody, Hep B surface Antigen, and Hep C Antibody tests. These tests must not be older than a month, from the time you are asked to produce the sample. Also, you must carry all the test copies with you when you go to meet the specialist to schedule your appointment. However, your specialist may ask you to undergo a few more tests.
8.What if I don’t use all the sperm or if I have some left?
If you have some left or you don’t want to use your frozen sperm, you can donate it for research conducted on the eggs, sperm, and embryos as it will help the scientists to further study and develop new treatments. You can also donate them for training purposes, i.e. new embryologists need sperm practice (a mock practice) such as injecting the sperm into the egg, etc. So, this will be a great opportunity for them to learn. If you feel okay about it, you can also donate the sperm to someone who is wanting to have a baby and finally, you can just discard them. The choice will be yours.
9.What is thawing?
Before using, the frozen sperm must be thawed. It is done at 40 degrees Celsius, in order to keep the motility intact.
10.Can I refreeze the sperm?
With regards to the DNA fragmentation, the sperm can undergo at least 3 cycles of freezing and thawing. However, it must be done in their original cryoprotectant, without any sperm washing or any other alteration.
11.Do I need to fill forms?
Yes, if you have doubts, our associates will explain them to you and you can take your time and fill them with ease.
12.Is it successful?
Treatment with fresh sperm and frozen sperm are both equal and doesn’t change. Therefore, if your female partner is fertile and your sperm quality is good, you will be able to conceive easily.
13.How to use the sperm?
To use the frozen sperm, you will have to opt for either IVF or IUI or ICSI.