What You Should Know About Cryopreservation

In March, two major losses of clinic-stored frozen eggs raised concerns and doubts for women’s health professionals and those considering cryopreservation.


What happened?

At the University Hospitals Fertility Center in Cleveland, Ohio, over 4,000 frozen eggs were compromised because of an alarm on the storage tank that had been turned off. Had the alarm been functioning properly, it would’ve alerted the staff about the rising temperature in the tank. Days after the Cleveland incident, another mishap happened at Pacific Fertility Center in San Fransisco, California, where a tank’s temperature rose as a result of decreased liquid nitrogen levels. Similarly, thousands of eggs were potentially compromised, but some tissue was saved.


What is cryopreservation?

Cryopreservation has become a popular choice for women planning to have children later in life. Some employers even offer to cover some of the costly procedure for their workers. According to Time magazine, the number of women who have chosen to freeze their eggs has risen from about 900 to 76,000 since 2009.

These procedures are some women’s only chances of getting pregnant. Cryopreservation also costs thousands of dollars; not only from the procedure itself but also from the annual storage fees and the in vitro fertilization that will inevitably be needed when the eggs are used.

With the recent news and costs of cryopreservation in mind, we suggest doing your research before committing to freezing your eggs.


What risks are there to cryopreservation?

Margaret Swain, a lawyer and director of the Assisted Reproductive Technology practice at the American Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction, urges prospective patients to first do their research.

“Some risks may simply be inherent to the process and may not be an indication of error,” Swain says. Some of the possible pitfalls in cryopreservation include:

  • Low-quality eggs
  • Low-quality embryos or ones that don’t develop properly
  • Losing embryos and eggs during the necessary pre-fertilization and pre-transfer warming processes

Cryopreservation is an aggressive process that only high-quality eggs and embryos could survive. Even with a successful cryopreservation process, chances for a successful pregnancy are low. According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, only about 44 percent of women under 35 who relied on in vitro fertilization with frozen eggs were able to achieve a successful pregnancy within a year. For women over 42, the success rate drops to 24.4 percent.

Aside from tank-related issues, human error could also account for mislabelled eggs and embryos, and possible power outages.


What should I ask my clinic?

If you’re still considering cryopreservation, here are some basic questions you should ask your potential clinic:

  1. What is the clinic’s policy on labelling tissue? What are the fail safes and emergency plans for mishaps?
  2. Does the clinic let patients know when their materials are being transferred to another tank or somehow damaged?
  3. Is the clinic a member of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology? The society has a set of standards that better ensure your materials’ safety.
  4. Does the clinic follow the guidelines laid out in the Fertility Clinic Success Rate and Certification Act of 1992? More confirmation that they’ll take care of your things.
  5. What is the clinic’s success rate? You could check through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.