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 You are here : Home / Fertility / Additional Treatments / Cryopreservation

Cryopreservation

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Cryopreservation is a process where cells or whole tissues are preserved by cooling to low sub-zero temperatures, such as (typically) 77 K or -196 C (the boiling point of liquid nitrogen). At these low temperatures, any biological activity, including the biochemical reactions that would lead to cell death, is effectively stopped. However, when cryoprotectant solutions are not used, the cells being preserved are often damaged due to freezing during the approach to low temperatures or warming to room temperature.

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What is vitrification for IVF?

To embryologists, vitrification is ultra-rapid IVF embryo freezing instead of the traditional slow freezing process.

To a science dictionary, vitrification is the process of converting something into a glass-like solid that is free of any crystal formation.

For example, by adding a cryoprotectant, water can be cooled until it hardens like glass without any ice crystals forming. This is important in the embryology world because ice crystal formation can be very damaging to frozen embryos (or other frozen cells).

Vitrification in IVF can allow freezing of spare embryos with better post-thaw survival rates and higher pregnancy and live birth rates from frozen embryo transfer cycles.

We started vitrification of blastocysts in our IVF lab in early 2008 and have seen excellent post-thaw embryo survival and substantially higher pregnancy rates after frozen transfer procedures.


Advantages of embryo cryopreservation

  • Allow maximizing the potential for conception for IVF and prevent wastage of viable normal spare embryos. Perhaps this is the most important advantage of cryopreservation. Approximately 50% of women may have spare embryos available for freezing. In some clinics, the pregnancy and live birth rates with frozen-thawed embryo transfer is as high as those achieved with fresh embryo transfer.


  • Freezing all embryos for subsequent transfer may be advised for women who are at a high risk of developing severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome following ovarian stimulation for in-vitro fertilization (IVF).


  • When embryo implantation may be compromised in cases such as the presence of endometrial polyps, poor endometrial development, break through bleeding near the time of embryo transfer or illness.


  • Difficulty encountered at fresh embryo transfer e.g. cervical stenosis (inability to pass through the cervical canal because the cervix is narrowed or scarred, etc).


  • Cryopreservation of embryos is very important to be incorporated in the egg donation programs. It is not always possible to synchronize the recipient's cycle with that of the egg donor. In some countries, it is mandatory to freeze all embryos created from donated eggs, quarantined for a period of six months and until the donor have a repeat negative screening tests.


  • As a result of successful cryopreservation programs, frozen embryos have also become available for donation to infertile couples.


  • Before cancer chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

The approach used most widely so far for cryopreservation involves slow freezing, which minimises the damage caused by forming ice crystals to the follicles, the reproductive units containing the individual oocytes (eggs). However a new approach based on vitrification may achieve even better results, with both methods discussed at the ESF conference. Vitrification involves the conversion of ovarian tissue into a glass-like form without the damaging ice crystals, and can be achieved by very rapid freezing, for example by dowsing in liquid nitrogen. This supercools the water in the tissue, achieving a semi-solid form without formation of the crystals that destroy individual cells.



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