Sperm and testicular tissues can be preserved, and the procedure has been around for several decades. This service is available for men who wish to bank their sperm for the future.
Cryopreservation of sperm and testicular tissue is an invaluable option for men who have been diagnosed with cancer, and face treatment modalities such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. These methods have been found to be harmful to organs, tissues and cells related to reproduction.
Sperm freezing gives couples the option for future assisted reproductive therapy treatments such as intrauterine insemination and in-vitro fertilization. This can be beneficial for couples who are not yet ready to conceive, whether for financial reasons or other personal factors.
A health care provider usually refers patients to a fertility specialist.
The male patient and his partner can consult a fertility specialist to handle any questions and clarifications about the procedure, including the risks and chances for success.
Once a semen sample has been gathered, it is immediately warmed and stored at 37˚C. The sample then undergoes liquefaction and is mixed with a cryoprotectant that allows it to survive freezing and storage. Cryoprotectants remove water from the cells, preventing ice crystals from forming and damaging the sperm cells.
The semen samples are frozen in vapors of liquid nitrogen and placed in vials for storage until later use. The vials are labeled and catalogued for easy reference and retrieval.
The survival rate for cryopreserved sperm varies from patient to patient, so a single cryovial is often thawed in advance to assess the success rate and viability of the procedure. Studies have shown that the cryopreserved sperm and fresh sperm have similar chances of resulting in a healthy newborn. On the other hand, the occurrence of birth defects, miscarriage and other problems is also the same for cryopreserved and fresh sperm.
Testicular tissue freezing is used in the treatment of azoospermia, a medical condition wherein a man has no measurable sperm in his semen. While it is often caused by testicular abnormalities, azoospermia can be caused by physical obstruction of the ejaculatory duct. For these patients, testicular function and sperm production are normal.
Cryopreservation of testicular tissue may also be indicated for prepubertal boys undergoing cancer therapies that are toxic to their reproductive organs that are still developing. Thus, it is a viable option in preventing male sterility.
After consulting with a physician, the patient undergoes a full medical history and comprehensive physical examination, including screening for hormones and chromosome testing. During the procedure, a small incision is created, and a minor segment of testicular tissue (approximately 2-3mm) is extracted for histologic examination and freezing. Removing the testicular tissue can be performed under local or general anesthetic. The specimen is then divided into smaller sections, which allows for tests for the presence of viable sperm. The sections that are not for immediate use are cryopreserved for future use, such as ICSI or IVF.