State-of-the-art cryopreservation techniques
Our Virginia fertility center was the first in the DC metro area to offer egg freezing to our patients, and we have continued to provide excellent and leading-edge care ever since. As new cryopreservation techniques are validated, we incorporate them into our practice to ensure that our patients have the best possible chance to achieve the family of their dreams.
How egg and embryo freezing works
It all starts with an egg. Eggs are produced by follicles that develop within a woman’s ovaries. When an egg is successfully fertilized by sperm, an embryo develops. Our Virginia fertility center uses similar ovarian stimulation techniques for eggs and embryos.
- We prescribe patients injectable medications to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple follicles, which contain the eggs. Patients inject these medications for 8 to 14 days, and we monitor their ovarian follicles for growth.
- When the egg-containing follicles have grown large enough, the patient receives an injection of Lupron and/or HCG to enable the eggs to go through the final maturation process before egg retrieval.
- At our fertility center, we sedate the patient and Fady Sharara MD retrieves the patient’s mature eggs during a quick outpatient procedure at our Virginia fertility center.
If the woman is freezing her eggs, our on-site embryologist freezes the eggs using a fast freezing cryopreservation technique known as vitrification.
If the woman is planning to freeze her embryos, our embryologists attempt to fertilize the eggs in the laboratory using sperm from the woman’s partner or a donor. If the eggs successfully fertilize and the embryos reach the blastocyst stage, or consist of about 120 identical cells, the embryos can undergo biopsy for genetic testing. Due to improvements in cryopreservation techniques, we can transfer one embryo to the patient’s uterus and freeze the rest.
Both egg and embryonic cells contain a great deal of water. Traditional cryopreservation techniques involve dehydrating the cells to reduce the water content, preserving them in chemicals that prevent ice crystal formation and lowering the temperature of the cells by a few degrees a minute until they reach -196°C. By using traditional cryopreservation techniques for storage there is a risk that ice crystals can develop and damage the cell structure. Traditional cryopreservation techniques limit the survivability rate for eggs and embryos when thawed.
At our Virginia fertility center, we use a process called vitrification. Vitrification avoids the damage that can occur as a result of dehydration and ice crystal formation. Rather than being dehydrated, cells undergoing vitrification are placed in a solution of chemicals that prevent ice formation and are doused in liquid nitrogen so quickly that the solution and cells form a glass, preserving the cells until they are thawed.
Research has indicated that eggs that have been vitrified have as great a likelihood of successful fertilization as those that have been freshly retrieved. Embryos that have been vitrified survive the freeze and thaw process, providing a viable option for pregnancy in the future. Additionally, research suggests that frozen eggs do not suffer from reduced viability or other negative effects when they are stored for up to four years. Because widespread use of egg freezing is relatively new, researchers have not clearly established an outer limit for frozen egg viability. Frozen embryos have been successfully transferred after 14 years, but could theoretically last longer.
Contact us today to learn more about our cryopreservation techniques and other fertility services.