A New Era of In Vitro
A local couple reaches a milestone in reproductive science, pointing the way toward a whole new future.
(page 1 of 3)
Joy Simpson (her name changed to protect her family’s privacy) made medical history when she arrived at Christiana Hospital in late January: She was the first baby in the state born from a frozen donor egg.
In vitro fertilization was earth-shattering news 30 years ago, when Louise Brown, the so-called test-tube baby, was born in England. Advances in assisted reproductive technology have since made IVF increasingly common.
Using frozen sperm is nothing new. By the late 1980s it had become the norm. The first birth from a frozen embryo occurred in 1984. By 2000, frozen embryos accounted for 16 percent of pregnancies from assisted reproductive technology.
But oocyte cryopreservation, or egg freezing, proved difficult. Slow freezing and thawing tended to create knife-like ice crystals that could damage the egg, says embryologist Marc Portmann of Reproductive Associates of Delaware. The newer process of vitrification, an ultra-rapid method of freezing that creates a glass-like solid, minimizes that danger.
Of the 1,000 pregnancies from frozen eggs since the first in 1997, most have occurred during the past several years, largely because of the advances in vitrification, according to Dr. Michael Tucker, a pioneer in the field and scientific director of Georgia Reproductive Associates. Clinical pregnancy rates with vitrified eggs are nearly twice those achieved with slow frozen eggs.
“This is a very exciting time,” Tucker says. “It’s the first step in a new era of IVF.”
And it’s a change that is coming about rapidly. Jeffrey B. Russell, director of the Delaware Institute for Reproductive Medicine, predicts that rapid freezing of eggs may replace the older method within a few months. Since opening his practice in 1986, Russell has been a leader in several IVF developments, including the now-standard single-sperm injection pregnancy, or ICSI, which allows men with low-sperm counts to successfully father a child.
Joy’s parents became part of the new era of frozen egg IVF largely out of frustration. The Simpsons, Francine, now 43, and Rob, now 37, married six years ago. Their first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and their second was determined to be ectopic, so they sought Reproductive Associates of Delaware.
Infertility affects about 12 percent of women of childbearing age. More than 85 percent of those who seek medical assistance are treated successfully with drug therapy or surgical procedures. Fewer than 3 percent need advanced reproductive technologies such as IVF. In most IVF pregnancies, the woman’s own eggs are used. For some, however, pregnancy is possible only with donor eggs.
Page 2: A New Era of In Vitro, continues...