New procedure can pause pregnancies

May 4, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The option to freeze the biological clock is something many single women have hoped for. It is a way to preserve their fertility until they meet the perfect partner.

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But unlike sperm, a woman's eggs have been difficult to preserve. Now a growing number of fertility specialists are experimenting with oocyte freezing, and some say they're seeing impressive results.

Angelina is a bubbly toddler not quite 2-years-old. She is an example of the evolving field of infertility. She's a baby born through in vitro fertilization. But unlike most in-vitro babies, life for her began with a frozen egg.

"It was my last resort, I tried many different types of fertility treatments before you know going to the extreme of in vitro," said egg freezing patient Adriana Solares.

Adriana and her partner turned to Doctor David Diaz in Orange County and by participating in one of his egg freezing studies, she received in-vitro at a discounted rate.

It's estimated as few as 200, but no more 1,000 babies have been born worldwide from frozen eggs, and 39 of them happened at Dr. Diaz' West Coast Fertility Center.

"Now this is something you're tracking, as of right now, the CDC isn't tracking frozen eggs," asked ABC7's Carolyn Johnson.

"That's exactly right. There's no category yet for pregnancies that were derived from frozen oocytes," said Dr. Diaz.

It's a tricky process since egg cells have such high water content, making them difficult to freeze and thaw. After a decade of experimenting, Dr. Diaz believes he and his embryologist have found the right technique.

"We've learned that the viability of those embryos that came from frozen eggs is equivalent to those that came from frozen embryos," said Dr. Diaz.

But the American Society for Reproductive Medicine still considers egg freezing an experimental procedure.

"I think that one has to be cautioned to understand that egg freezing is not comparable to embryo freezing, for the simple fact that not all eggs can make it to embryos," said Stanford IVF Lab director Barry Behr, Ph.D.

While Dr. Behr is very optimistic egg freezing will one day change the face of in-vitro, he cautions we're not there yet.

"In all of these studies, because I've been part of them, there are eligibility or entry criteria, and I can assure you no woman who has a poor prognosis for IVF, is eligible to participate in these egg freezing studies," said Dr. Behr.

In Adriana's case, she was in her early twenties when her eggs were frozen as part of the study.

"I actually produced 21 eggs I believe, and out of the 21, they chose six good quality eggs to do the freezing," said Solares.

Thirty-six-year-old Theresa Moniak didn't think egg freezing was a reasonable option until speaking with Dr. Diaz.

"It was an easy decision once I saw the success rate with egg freezing because I was just worried about the moral dilemma, afterward with embryos," said Moniak.

Dr. Diaz says it's an issue many of his patients have struggled with, which led him to research egg freezing in the first place.

"Patients were concerned about the ethical issues surrounding or discarding surplus embryos after the couple had already completed their family," said Dr. Diaz.

"Unfortunately, I believe the expectations are not being set accurately, giving essentially women false hope that the outcome of egg freezing will be the same as embryo freezing," said Dr. Behr.

Dr. Behr thinks Theresa and her husband should have frozen embryos instead.

"Because in our hands and the hands of virtually anyone in the world, the success or the prognosis for a baby with a frozen embryo is significantly higher than that with a frozen egg. We think it's morally irresponsible to sort of sell a couple on egg freezing," said Dr. Behr.

Both doctors agree more data on egg freezing is needed. Dr. Diaz is among a group of fertility specialists taking part in the Hope Registry, a patient database that's tracking the safety and efficacy of egg freezing. It's sponsored by drug company EMD-Serono.

Related information:

David Diaz, MD, FACOG
Medical Director
West Coast Fertility Centers
11160 Warner Avenue
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
1-888-678-4747
www.ivfbaby.com
www.eggfreezing.com

Barry Behr, Phd
Stanford Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center
900 Welch Road, Suite 350
Palo Alto, CA 94304
650-498-7911
www.stanfordivf.com
Hope Registry

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