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Egg Donation Becomes More Accessible with Frozen Egg Banking
by Leigh Ann Woodruff, July 2012
For many years, couples and single people in need of sperm donation to build their families have had a fairly simple, straightforward process of going to a sperm bank and selecting a sperm donor from among the many available files. Once selected, sperm could be shipped to the fertility clinic and inseminations performed on the recipients' time frames.
For those in need of egg donation, the process was not quite so simple. "Fresh egg donation is time consuming and can be worrisome and costly for couples needing donor egg to start their family," says Michael Levy, M.D., a fertility doctor with Shady Grove Fertility Center. "These couples must find a donor, hope the donor will pass rigorous genetic, infectious disease and psychological screening, then wait for the donor's menstrual cycle to align with the cycle of the woman receiving the eggs." The entire process can take anywhere from three to 12 months, and cycles may be canceled for reasons unrelated to the recipient.
Now, however, couples and single parents by choice in need of egg donation have a new option —frozen egg banking. With the ability to select frozen eggs, there is more access to egg donation, the process is simplified, and procedures can be performed on the recipient's timetable.
Advances in Freezing Technology Improve Success Rates for Frozen Donor Eggs
Vitrification — the same technology that has improved the ability to freeze eggs for women undergoing medical treatment that may destroy their fertility or for women who want to preserve their fertility for social reasons — has allowed the growth of frozen egg banking for egg donation. Vitrification is a fast-freezing technology that freezes eggs (which have a lot of water in them) so quickly that ice crystals don't have time to form. Whereas in the past it was much more difficult to thaw an egg successfully than it was to thaw sperm or an embryo, today vitrification has significantly improved the viability of frozen eggs, and success rates are improving.
"With one center, we had 53 percent of 116 transfers result in a pregnancy and 47 percent result in the delivery of a baby," says Heidi Hayes, CEO of Donor Egg Bank USA, which is partnered with 18 fertility clinics in the United States and Canada. "Delivery success rates typically range between 40 to 55 percent."
Frozen Donor Eggs Can Reduce Cost, Eliminate Worry
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, donor egg usage has increased more than 80 percent since the year 2000. Donor eggs are in demand, and they are expensive. A complete donor egg cycle can cost upwards of $25,000.
"Donor egg treatment is expensive because typically couples pay for donor testing, compensation, medication and IVF retrieval," Hayes says.
If an egg donor produces many eggs for a donor bank the fees for all of these different aspects of treatment can be cost-shared among several patients. "While a traditional fresh donor cycle can cost $25,000 to $38,000, through sharing fixed costs between several patients, we can reduce the overall cost by as much as 50 percent," Hayes explains.
In addition, frozen donor eggs can eliminate much of the apprehension that comes with a donor egg cycle about whether the cycle will work and mature eggs will be received. A couple is guaranteed that they will receive mature eggs for their investment.
In addition, the time aspect with frozen egg banking is greatly reduced, as a frozen donor egg cycle can generally be completed within one to two months. A couple can select a donor from the frozen egg bank website. Eggs shipped within a few days to a fertility clinic, and treatment can begin immediately or on the patient's time frame.
Who Should Consider Frozen Donor Eggs?
Anyone who is considering egg donation as an option for fertility treatment may want to consider frozen egg donation. This may include:
- A couple in which the female has poor quality eggs or no eggs, but they want to use the male partner's sperm.
- A couple in which the female has no ovaries, but has a uterus
- A woman who has an inheritable genetic condition she does not want to pass on to her children
- A woman who is over 39
- A single male or gay male couple who will be using a gestational surrogate to build their family
"The ability to offer patients immediate access to frozen donor eggs has transformed the approach to family building through egg donation," says Dr. Levy. "The improved convenience and simplification of treatment cycles coupled with lower costs make a compelling case for increased usage of frozen donor egg bank cycles," Dr. Levy says.