Egg freezing

Scientific breakthrough in reproductive medicine

The revolution in female fertility!

Unfertilised eggs can now be frozen!

In reproductive medicine it has already been possible for many years to freeze and store embryos in liquid nitrogen for an almost unlimited period of time. Unfertilized human eggs cells could however not be frozen without losing their reproductive potential.

Thanks to a scientific breakthrough in cryobiology in 2011, it is now possible to freeze unfertilized eggs. Thanks to egg freezing, women who would like to postpone having a child until later in life, have the possibility of having their egg cells frozen at a young age to then use them for reproductive measures later in life.

The female sexual revolution began in the 60s thanks to the contraceptive pill. The pill the role of the woman in society and formed the cornerstone of female emancipation.

Thanks to freezing of egg cells, women can now “preserve” their fertility – and the next revolution has begun!

Professor Carl Djerassi - father and inventor of the contraceptive pill

High-profile visitor at the fertility clinic in Vienna: Professor Carl Djerassi - father and inventor of the contraceptive pill - visited the Vienna Institute of Dr. Leonhard Loimer on 17 June 2011. Back left to right: Dr Mathias Brunbauer (Medical Director of Vienna), Dr Martin Swoboda (egg freezing expert at KinderWunschKlinik), Dr Leonhard Loimer. Front: Prof. Carl Djerassi. 

Oocyte search in the laboratoryOocyte search in the laboratory: after a 10-day hormonal stimulation the woman's follicles are extracted from her ovaries. Under the microscope, the eggs are retrieved from the follicular fluid and then frozen. The "biological clock" of women is thus stopped.

The scientific breakthrough

Pioneer in this field of cryobiology was Spain (Institute IVI Valencia), where for many years a lot of work was put into the technology and the possibilities of freezing.

Using a specially created freezing protocol ("Protocol Cobo", named after the local head of the cryopreservation Dr. Ana Cobo), the eggs cells in the fertility clinics of Dr. Loimer in Vienna and Wels are now frozen in certified storage in accordance with the criteria developed in Spain.

Depending on the number of stored eggs, the woman can assume a defined chance of pregnancy. “For a young woman who freezes her eggs at an early age, we are able to estimate the chances of her falling pregnant based on the number of harvested eggs. For example if we freeze 12 eggs from a 27 year old woman, that woman can count on a 60% chance of falling pregnant later on, and with 10 eggs cells, we’re still looking at a 40% chance!” reports Dr Martin Swaboda, Specialist in Reproductive Medicine at the KinderWunschKlinik, who has gained much experience using this technology in Spain.

One cannot expect a 100% chance of falling pregnant: “We expressly warn against suggesting to women that they can wait forever. This exaggerated notion cannot and will not be fulfilled in the near future!” appeals Dr Loimer.

“We feel that it is the duty of an ethical and moral society to create regulations and controls that prevent a pregnancy that exceeds the natural menopause”, comments Prof. DDr. Johannes Huber as the bioethics advisor of the KinderWunschKlinik.

Women's reproductive dilemma

The fact that in western industrialized countries the desire to have a child is being postponed by years (due to longer studies and training courses, career planning, reorientation in a partnership, etc.) is technically becoming a reproductive problem for many women. Nowadays, the years of highest fertility (between 25 and 27 years) are not considered to be the right time for family planning. Later on – now considered to be an optimal time by the woman – there are problems with the reproductive biology.

Each woman is born with an individually specific number of egg cells in her ovaries. Unlike in men, where new sperm are continuously produced, the number of egg cells of women is limited. Due to environmental factors, aging processes, etc., the number of eggs in the ovaries decreases until they are finally all depleted. This is when the menopause begins. In addition, the egg quality decreases with the age of the woman, thereby reducing the chance of having a healthy child, or reducing the chance of falling pregnant.

The public perception often signals a different image to woman by repeatedly reporting pregnancies in later years. “We specifically need to point out that this is a misleading perception. The chance of successful reproduction in later years is clearly overestimated. Already at the age of 30, the phase of slightly limited fertility begins, and then moves on to the phase of notably limited fertility at the age of 35. From 40 onwards, we are dealing with highly limited fertility!” declares Dr Swoboda.

One shouldn’t forget that pregnancies at an older age also bring with them additional risk factors. For the mother, there is an increased risk for complications (gestosis, gestational diabetes, …). For the child, there is an increased risk for genetic diseases (trisomy 13, …) due to the reduced egg cell quality.

“In many European countries and in particular in the USA, specialists in reproductive medicine prefer to use donor egg cells. Until now, this has not been allowed in Austria. Thanks to new technologies, it is now possible to become pregnant with your own healthy egg cells from earlier years – and with the same chance as using donor egg cells!” concludes Dr Loimer.

About the KinderWunschKlinik

Dr Loimer founded the KinderWunschKlinik Wels in 2002 and the Vienna clinic in 2011. With more than 50 employees, both clinics are open throughout the year. The range of treatments includes all legally approved methods such as insemination, IVF, ICSI, egg cell and embryo freezing, polar body diagnostics, all sperm examination methods, etc. The pregnancy rate in both of the KinderWunschKliniks after the first attempt lies at over 50%, thereby making both clinics leaders in the Austrian reproductive medicine.

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