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Preserving Fertility: The Science Behind Sperm Freezing and Storage

Jessica Rogalski
August 6, 2023

Freezing and Storing Sperm

Sperm freezing is a way for men to save their fertility by freezing and storing their sperm for later use. This technique has become increasingly popular as more individuals recognize the importance of maintaining their reproductive options.

It involves collecting a sperm sample from the individual and subjecting it to a series of steps that prepare it for freezing. A cryobank can store frozen sperm for many years. This storage option allows people to preserve their ability to have children. It benefits those who do not want to start a family immediately.

The history of sperm storage dates back to the 1950s when researchers began experimenting with freezing sperm. Over the years, advancements in technology and techniques have made the process more efficient and successful. Today, sperm storage is a widely accepted method for preserving fertility. Individuals who must undergo cancer treatments or individuals with medical conditions that may affect their fertility also use this method.

The Process of Freezing Sperm

The process of freezing sperm involves several steps to ensure the usability and longevity of the sperm. Once the sample is collected through masturbation, the quality and quantity of the sperm is analyzed.

After the collection and analysis, a cryoprotectant solution is added to the sample. This solution helps protect the sperm from damage during the freezing process. The mixture is divided into small vials or straws labeled and sealed for freezing.

The freezing process typically involves slowly lowering the temperature of the sperm sample to -196 degrees Celsius using liquid nitrogen. This rapid freezing technique is called vitrification.

Vitrification: Rapid Freezing Process

The process of vitrification involves several steps. First, the cells or tissues are treated with a cryoprotectant solution to dehydrate and protect them from freezing damage. Next, they are rapidly cooled to very low temperatures using liquid nitrogen or another cryogenic agent. The rapid cooling prevents the formation of ice crystals and instead forms a glass-like solid.

During vitrification, it is crucial to minimize the exposure of cells or tissues to toxic levels of cryoprotectants. A stepwise approach, where the concentration of cryoprotectants is gradually increased before vitrification, can avoid these harmful levels.

Vitrified samples stored at ultra-low temperatures remain without significant degradation. They can be rapidly thawed and rehydrated for transplantation or research purposes.
Various applications utilize vitrification. Some of these applications include the storage of embryos for in vitro fertilization (IVF), cord blood stem cells, and biological samples for research.

Benefits of Sperm Storage

Sperm storage offers several benefits to individuals who wish to preserve their fertility. One of the primary benefits is the ability to maintain reproductive options in the future. By freezing their sperm, individuals can ensure they have viable sperm available when they are ready to start a family.

Another benefit of sperm storage is the convenience and flexibility it provides. Individuals can freeze their sperm anytime, allowing them to plan for their future without the pressure of starting a family immediately. Storing sperm can benefit individuals pursuing education, career advancement, or other personal goals before beginning a family.

Additionally, sperm storage can reduce the risk of genetic abnormalities in offspring. Freezing sperm at a younger age is very beneficial. It allows individuals to preserve their sperm when it is healthier and less likely to have congenital abnormalities. Storing fertility can be vital for individuals with genetic conditions or a family history of genetic disorders.

Who Can Benefit from Sperm Storage?

Sperm storage can benefit many individuals at risk of fertility loss. It's a smart choice for those who wish to preserve their reproductive options. Some of the groups that can benefit from sperm storage include:

  • Certain medical conditions, such as testicular cancer, leukemia, or autoimmune diseases, can affect sperm production or quality. By freezing their sperm before treatment, these individuals can preserve their fertility and increase their chances of having biological children.
  • Men undergoing cancer treatment: Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can harm sperm production and quality. Sperm storage before cancer treatment can allow men to have biological children after completing their treatment.
  • Men in high-risk occupations exposed to hazardous environments or substances may be at risk of fertility loss. By freezing their sperm, these individuals can protect their fertility and have the option to start a family.
  • Men with low sperm counts or poor sperm quality may have difficulty conceiving naturally. By freezing their sperm, they can increase their chances of successful fertilization through assisted reproductive techniques.
liquid nitrogen tank for sperm storage

Longevity of Frozen Sperm

The longevity of frozen sperm depends on several factors. Storage conditions and the quality of the sperm at the time of freezing are two primary factors. Generally, cryobanks can store frozen sperm for many years without significant loss of viability.

The recommended storage duration for frozen sperm varies depending on the country and the specific regulations in place. In some countries, cryobanks can store frozen sperm for up to 10 years. In other countries, cryobanks can store sperm indefinitely.

Studies have shown that using long-term frozen sperm for assisted reproductive techniques can yield successful outcomes. The success rates of using frozen sperm to achieve pregnancy are comparable to those of using fresh sperm. These rates indicate that frozen sperm can remain viable and capable of fertilization even after many years of storage.

Success Rates of Sperm Storage

The success of sperm storage depends on various factors. Sperm quality, the freezing technique used, and the laboratory's performing procedure expertise are a few factors to consider. Overall, the success rates of using frozen sperm for conception are encouraging.

Studies have shown that the survival rate of frozen sperm after thawing is typically high, ranging from 50% to 80%. Once frozen sperm is thawed, a significant portion remains viable and capable of fertilization.

The success rates of using frozen sperm for assisted reproductive techniques, such as IVF or IUI, are also promising. The chances of achieving pregnancy using frozen sperm are comparable to using fresh sperm. Frozen sperm can be just as effective in achieving conception.

Alternatives to Sperm Storage

Alternative sperm storage options are good for individuals who may not be suitable candidates for this procedure. Some of the alternatives to sperm storage include:

  • Testicular Tissue Freezing may be an option for Individuals who cannot produce motile sperm. It could also benefit those at risk of losing their fertility due to medical reasons. Testicular tissue freezing involves removing a small piece of testicular tissue and freezing it for future use.
  • Donor sperm is an excellent option for anyone experiencing fertility issues or same-sex couples wanting to start a family. Sperm banks have a collection of donors to choose from. The best part is they're all carefully screened and selected based on the sperm bank's standards. Donor sperm is used in home insemination, intrauterine insemination (IUI), intracervical insemination (ICI), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), or in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.
  • Adoption can be an excellent option for starting a family. Individuals who cannot conceive naturally or prefer not to pursue assisted reproductive techniques can explore this. Adoption allows individuals to provide a loving home to a child in need.

Individuals must discuss their options with a fertility specialist to determine the most suitable method for preserving their fertility.

The Cost of Sperm Storage

The cost of sperm storage can vary depending on several factors. The cryobank's location, services included, and any additional procedures or tests required to determine the final cost. Sperm storage can range from $500 to $1,500, excluding extra storage or future use fees.

Cryobank America stores sperm for a one-time collection fee of $225 and a monthly storage fee of $18.99. You'll pay a one-time withdrawal fee of $399 when you are ready to use your sample.

Most insurance companies don't cover sperm storage. However, some insurance plans may cover individuals with medical conditions that affect their fertility, such as cancer. Cryobank America has partnered with LIVESTRONG Fertility, offering discounted storage services for registered patients.

Frozen Sperm For Future Fertility

Sperm storage is a valuable option for individuals who wish to preserve their fertility for future use. By freezing and storing their sperm, individuals can maintain their reproductive choices and increase their chances of having future biological children. The process of sperm storage is safe and effective, with high success rates for achieving pregnancy using frozen sperm.

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