Cost, results of freezing eggs may be less

May 4, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The first sperm banks opened some 40 years ago, but freezing eggs is a different story. Their high water content makes them tricky to successfully freeze and thaw. There are fewer than 1,000 babies born worldwide from frozen eggs. In the past few years, the research has accelerated, but are frozen egg banks ready for prime time?

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Dr. David Diaz is medical director of West Coast Fertility Centers in Southern California. He and his embryologist have spent years experimenting with oocyte, or egg freezing, because he says many of his patients expressed concern about the ethics of freezing embryos.

"That started us on a pathway about 10 years ago of trying to perfect the technique, the solutions, the temperatures, and the duration of these solutions so the oocytes would be viable when we thawed them," says Dr. Diaz.

Dr. Diaz counts 39 babies born from frozen eggs since 2005, and he's now started Frozen Egg Bank Inc. to offer would-be moms what he says is a more convenient, cost effective form of egg donation.

In traditional egg donation, the reproductive cycles of both donor and recipient must be synchronized for the egg retrieval, and if all goes well, embryo implantation. On average it costs around $25,000, but if there are problems and the cycles need to be repeated, costs climb.

To thaw frozen eggs already stored in his bank, Dr. Diaz says the cost is $18,000. Critics say would-be-moms are paying less, but also getting less in terms of both quantity and quality.

"We know frozen is not as good as fresh with anything," says Dr. Barry Behr.

Dr. Behr runs the IVF clinic at Stanford, which is also experimenting with egg freezing. He says an average egg donor produces about 25 eggs, which all belong to the intended parents.

Using Frozen Egg Bank Inc., recipients get six eggs to thaw, with the promise that more will be thawed if those first six don't survive.

"You're essentially paying more for sub-optimal material when you could do a fresh donor and freeze all the embryos that belong to you and your husband, you own them and you can pull them out of storage whenever you want," says Dr. Behr.

Dr. Diaz says the national network of frozen egg banks he's building will offer greater choice with less hassle. Enter you're preferences about donor ethnicity, hair and eye color and see the available options instantly online.

"By having a network of egg freezing centers, we're going to be able to refer patients to their closest center and also for the purpose of utilizing the frozen eggs from the donor, we'll be able to exchange the oocytes of particular donor that is being sought by a patient in another state," says Dr. Diaz.

"But let's not kid ourselves, the primary benefit is to the center because they can essentially get two donor egg cycles from one donor egg fee," says Dr. Behr.

In other words, Frozen Egg Bank Inc. can sell the eggs from a single donor to two or more potential mothers and make a larger profit. Dr. Behr believes the cost should be much less, considering egg freezing is still experimental.

"I'm not okay with charging exorbitant prices which would imply that the success rate is something it really isn't," says Dr. Behr.

One other point, when using frozen eggs or frozen embryos, doctors transfer at least one or two extra embryos compared to fresh, which raises the risk of multiples.

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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