Page modified at: 02/01/2010
WOMEN are to be offered, for the first time, a dedicated egg freezing service that will enable them to have a healthy baby when they choose.
Two of Britain’s leading fertility clinics first launched new egg freezing programmes in September 2007 designed for women who wish to postpone motherhood to pursue a career or find the right partner. In 2008 IVF Wales in Cardiff had their first successful pregnancy following egg freezing. It could transform women’s lives in a similar way to the contraceptive pill by enabling them to beat their biological clocks and pick the moment in their lives when it best suits them to start a family. Vitrification
The programmes have been made possible by a breakthrough in freezing technology that almost eliminates the risk of damage to eggs. Until now, egg freezing has largely been restricted by doctors to cancer patients left infertile by chemo-therapy.
Clinics believed the success rates of the technology were so low that it was unethical to advise healthy women to use egg freezing for social reasons. Doctors feared the women would sacrifice their chance of conceiving naturally and later discover their frozen eggs were too damaged to use.
Now, however, new techniques with far higher success rates have been developed, and the two clinics believe they make it ethically justified to offer a service aimed at career women. The clinics say the eggs frozen through techniques known as vitrification emerge from years in storage in almost the same condition as when they were released from the ovaries.
Dr Simon Fishel, managing director of Care Fertility, which has 10 fertility clinics across Britain and will be marketing a new type of egg freezing to all women, said: “Until now, the conventional technology has been used to freeze eggs mainly only as a dire last resort for women who are preserving fertility before cancer treatment. “With this new technology, which is almost as efficient as using fresh eggs, it might make a lot of sense for women in their twenties to have their own bank of eggs stored if they are not considering having a family until their late thirties. This new technology makes it ethical for us to offer egg freezing to all women.” www.carefertilityweb.co.uk
In Japan, where vitrification techniques were developed, scientists have shown that 90%-95% of eggs can survive the new freezing method compared with 50%-60% using conventional methods. Vitrification has shown pregnancy rates of 30%-40%, which is comparable to the use of fresh eggs. The technique involves removing water from the eggs then freezing them at high speed in liquid nitrogen to prevent any damaging crystals from forming.
Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, medical director of the Bridge Fertility Centre, the second clinic launching a social egg freezing programme, said: “The contraceptive pill gave women more choice about when they started their families. Egg freezing now gives women the chance to delay having children until the time that is right for them.” www.thebridgecentre.co.uk
Dr Tony Griffiths, an infertility expert from IVFWales in Cardiff, said “our unit is one of the first in the UK to have a successful pregnancy using frozen eggs. The key to the Spire Cardiff Hospital based Body Clock Service which assesses Ovarian Reserve, is the ability to identify those women who either need to start planning to have a baby in the near future or alternatively to freeze their eggs until the time is right.
Egg freezing (Vitrification) costs £3,795 plus storage cost at £220 per annum. The cost includes egg collection, frozen embryo transplant , counselling and storage ( at cost per annum). www.ivfwales.co.uk
Doctors believe that, with the availability of more successful methods, thousands of British women over the next five years will freeze their eggs to postpone starting a family until it is more convenient. British clinics rarely implant eggs in women aged over 50, but postmenopausal women could take their frozen eggs for IVF treatment in countries with more lax approaches.