Cryopreservation. A word that may come off as intimidating to the general public as it can bring to mind terms like cloning, stem-cell research and the like. But in reality, this has been an essential tool in modern science and medicine, with many people benefiting from it. Like couples who are finding difficulty in conceiving a child, or a person who will undergo a medical procedure that will lessen her/ his likelihood or parenthood, but may still want children in the future. These are just some of the many purposes of cryopreservation, but to better appreciate and understand it, below are some of the most common questions on cryopreservation, with their answers:
1. What is cryopreservation?
Cryopreservation is a process where cells or other biological substances are preserved by freezing them in sub-zero temperatures using liquid nitrogen. At this state, any chemical activity that may cause damage to the sample is effectively stopped. Generally, this method of preservation is used to store sperm and egg cells for third party reproduction methods like in-vitro fertilization.
2. How is it done?
Before a sample is taken from the donor, screening is administered to ensure that she/ he does not have any diseases or conditions that may contaminate the sample. Once a donor is cleared, samples will be gathered. Sperm is gathered from men by taking a sample of their semen. Once the semen is produced, it is subjected to sperm freezing. For women, a hormone needs to be taken for 2-4 weeks before extraction to stimulate and ripen the eggs. Once mature, it is extracted through a medical procedure that uses an ultra-sound guided needle. When the sample has been secured, it will be subjected immediately to egg freezing. These samples will be stored in holding tanks that contain liquid nitrogen.
3. Is it expensive?
The cost for cryopreservation and storage would vary, depending on the cell or tissue sample that will be frozen. For example, storing an embryo can cost as much as US$700.00 a year. In the case of sperm freezing, this can cost about US$500.00- US$1,000. Egg freezing can be much more expensive, with the whole process costing around US$10,000.00. Both will also have a yearly fee of US$500.00 for storage.
4. How long can a sample be cryogenically preserved?
In some clinics sperm cells have been successfully stored for about 20 years. Egg cells have been stored for up to 10- 15 years. The quality of the sample would also depend on its state right before it was frozen.
5. Where can I have my sample frozen?
Cryopreservation facilities can be typically found in hospitals and clinics.
Most clinics that offer sperm or egg freezing services would also have end-to-end services, meaning from screening- storage. Make sure to find out if they are accredited by the proper authorities and are managed by licensed physicians.