Assisted reproductive technology can be a wonderful way for people to grow their families, but it’s not always a one-step (or even two-step, three-step, or four-step) process. Sometimes you need to hold onto embryos for later use, and that’s where embryo storage comes in.
Why do people store embryos?
There are many reasons someone might need to find storage for embryos. IVF patients often have extra embryos that they might want to use for a later cycle. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy sometimes freeze eggs or embryos in case the treatment impacts their fertility. Women who have endometriosis – a chronic disease that affects fertility – sometimes choose to freeze their eggs. Some women may also freeze eggs or embryos when they’re young so that they have a better chance at having children when they’re older.
How does the freezing process work?
There’s a reason you can’t just stick embryos in the back of your freezer: they need to be stored in extremely cold temperatures. One way to freeze them is to replace all the water in the cells with cryoprotectant to prevent them from rupturing and then cooling the embryos to below -30 C (-22 F) by -0.3 C per minute. The frozen embryos are then stored in liquid nitrogen that’s -196 C (-321 F).
A newer method called vitrification allows the embryos to be preserved without the risk of water expanding and rupturing the cells. Vitrification doesn’t even technically freeze the embryos; it actually turns them into a glass-like substance by cooling them much more quickly. It’s a faster, but more complicated process that’s becoming more popular.
How much does it cost?
Storage fees will vary depending on where you store them, but they can range from $300-$1,000 per year. If you include the cost of collecting and freezing the embryos, you’ll need to add on about $15,000 to that cost.
How long can you store embryos?
Embryo freezing has only been around since the 1980s, so it’s not clear yet how long embryos can be frozen and stored. Most people don’t store embryos for longer than 10 years, but embryos stored for that long have been thawed, used, and resulted in healthy pregnancies and babies.
How do you take them out of storage?
When you’re ready to use your embryos, you’ll want to contact the facility where you’re storing them and let them know that you’d like to take your embryos out of storage. They will reverse the freezing or vitrification process, allowing your embryos to thaw and be ready for implantation. For the frozen embryo transfer, you’ll likely be taking medication for two weeks prior to the implantation to get your uterus ready for an embryo. The actual thawing takes about an hour, and then you’re all set to put your embryos to good use.
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“Sperm and embryo freezing.” Pacific Fertility Center. Pacific Fertility Center. 2016. Web.
“Frequently asked questions about egg freezing.” USC Fertility. Keck School of Medicine of USC. 2016. Web.
“Frozen embryo transfers (FET) explained.” Shady Grove Fertility. Shady Grove Fertility. 2016. Web.