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New Sperm Finding and Storage Technique Results in 'Miracle' Baby

A ground-breaking technique for finding and storing sperm, developed at the Cleveland Clinic Fertility Center, gave one couple a true "miracle" baby. Nine-month-old Kenley Schiraldi of Campbell, Ohio, was born last April after in vitro fertilization (IVF), but this IVF was banking on only one egg and one sperm.

The father, Jason Schiraldi, was diagnosed with azoospermia — he had no sperm in his semen, according to Nina Desai, Ph.D., HCLD, director of the IVF laboratory at the Cleveland Clinic. Fertility doctors performed a testicular biopsy to remove tiny bits of tissue and test for evidence of sperm. Scientists in the IVF lab searched for nine hours.

They found one sperm.

The mother, Jennifer Schiraldi, underwent the egg retrieval process for IVF, and the fertility doctors were only able to retrieve 12, eight of which were good. But there was only one sperm that could fertilize one egg.

The Cleveland Clinic used intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), a lab technique in which one single sperm is injected into the egg, for fertilization. The egg was successfully fertilized, and developed normally. After three days, it was transferred to Jennifer's uterus. And 16 days after that, she was confirmed pregnant, with a healthy baby born last April.

This is the first time a single sperm has been frozen, injected into a single egg and resulted in a healthy pregnancy, according to the Cleveland Clinic experts. With the technique, called Single Sperm Freezing, can find and store tiny amounts of sperm in a drop of fluid inside a very thin straw.

"In conventional freezing you have a 200 to 1,000 micro liter of sample containing both living and dead sperm that are placed directly in a freezing vial or straw," Desai explains. "The sample is held in vapor and then immersed in liquid nitrogen. With Single Sperm Freezing, the sample is screened at 300 times magnification for presence of sperm — this may take one to three hours. Living sperm are identified from amongst the dead cells and picked up with a glass needle. After incubation with a cryoprotectant, sperm are ready to be frozen. The sperm are moved with a fine glass needle, and the use of the microscope, to the freezing device. These sperm sequestered in one microliter of fluid are placed on a plastic capillary tube with a preformed gutter. The capillary tube is then placed into another straw and sealed. The straw is then slowly cooled before storage in liquid nitrogen."

It is expected that this technique will be able to help many men in the future. "Of the percentage of men seeking fertility treatment, 10 to 15 percent may have either azoospermia or oligospermia (only a few sperm) in their semen," Desai says.

The Single Sperm Freezing technique took two decades to develop, and this success has been very exciting for the Cleveland Clinic fertility team. "Ultimately it takes a team of very dedicated physicians and lab personnel to make something like this happen," Desai says. "Cases like this are what make our work so exciting and the hours developing new methods worthwhile. Each pregnancy to us is a personal success, and some cases especially touch our hearts and leave us in awe."


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