Tiny lab-grown embryos have always faced a perilous journey from conception to a baby. But there was one place where they seemed safe and sound: the freezer.
Until now. Two major and near-simultaneous failures at fertility centers is sending shock waves through the fertility industry, triggering questions about the technology and oversight of egg and embryo storage, which is increasingly popular — and largely self-regulated.
Coolant leaked from freezers at both San Francisco’s Pacific Fertility Clinic and Cleveland’s University Hospitals Fertility Center, putting precious eggs or embryos at risk.
“We need to have a better understanding of where the weaknesses in the system are,” said Dr. Ryszard Chetkowski, director of the Alta Bates Hospital fertility program in Berkeley. “People value these embryos tremendously.
“We must get at the bottom of what caused the failure — why these two tanks failed and thousands of other tanks haven’t,” added Chetkowski, who cares for patients with tissue stored at the San Francisco facility.
Souls on ice, an estimated 1 million embryos are now in storage in the U.S. Some tech companies, like Facebook and Google, offer it as an employee benefit.
Fertility treatment isn’t cheap. A single cycle of fertilization costs about $12,000, but drugs and related procedures push the total price to more than $20,000 per cycle.
Until recently, the freezing-thawing cycle was very risky, due to the creation of ice crystals. Only about 60 percent of embryos made it through the process intact. But a new technology called vitrification, which uses antifreeze and much faster freezing, avoids crystal formation. An estimated 95 percent of embryos are healthy when thawed.
Now there are new anxieties about storage.
Although no one yet knows what went wrong, experts suspect there was a leak in the seal of the tank that holds liquid nitrogen, where frozen embryos are stored. But why didn’t a sensor sound an alarm? Was that broken, also?
There’s no known connection between the two episodes. The tanks are believed to have different manufacturers. The San Francisco tank was relatively new, only about six years old.
The tanks that contain frozen embryos are monitored seven days a week, according to the Pacific Fertility Center. Each tank gets a physical inspection daily, looking for problems or signs of problems. The quantity of nitrogen in the tank is assessed as a means of monitoring for a possible slow leak or an impending tank failure. The nitrogen in the tank is topped up daily, since …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Health