Talking Egg Freezing with Cleveland Clinic

Cynthia Austin

The Cleveland Clinic Fertility Center is a fertility clinic that is is part of the Cleveland Clinic's Ob/Gyn & Women's Health Institute in Ohio. Recently, Cynthia Austin, M.D., Medical Director of the fertility clinic, answered questions on egg freezing and pointed out the importance of understanding the process. "Many eggs, fresh or frozen, will not fertilize, many fertilized eggs will not become good quality embryos, and the majority of embryos will not become babies," she says. "This is the reality of human reproduction. 

"Egg cryopreservation cannot guarantee a successful pregnancy in the future," Dr. Austin continues. "Egg freezing — cryopreservation — represents a chance for a woman to become pregnant in the future.  The probability that the embryos created from frozen eggs will result in pregnancy correlates with the quality of the eggs at the time they were frozen.  Young healthy woman make the best quality eggs.  Eggs can now be frozen for future use when it is anticipated that time, or other events such as chemotherapy, will have a negative impact on egg quality."

Here are Dr. Austin's answers to additional questions on egg freezing.

How long has Cleveland Clinic been performing egg freezing?

Cleveland Clinic Fertility center began investigating egg freezing in 2003. Most cryopreserved eggs remain stored for future use.
Our first pregnancy using eggs that had been cryopreserved was in 2006.

Who are you offering egg freezing services to? What types of patients?

Choices for female fertility preservation now includes both egg and embryo cryopreservation.  Embryo freezing has been highly successful for decades. However, a woman who does not have a partner with whom she wants to create embryos, can only take advantage of the option to freeze embryos by using donor sperm to fertilize the eggs.  

We began by offer egg cryopreservation to cancer patients and to couples with severe male factor who, during an IVF cycle, have more eggs than they have sperm to fertilize the eggs.

One of our births is the result of eggs that were frozen under those circumstances.  The couple had a successful IVF cycle using the embryos created during that cycle. The couple was able to have another pregnancy using the “extra” cryopreserved eggs that were thawed and fertilized years later.  

We are now offering egg freezing for single or married women who anticipate delaying pregnancy until their late 30s or 40s.

What does your clinic consider the optimal age for egg freezing?  Do you have a cut-off age?

Having eggs that have been cryopreserved does not guarantee that the woman/couple will be successful in achieving pregnancy. The younger a woman is when she freezes the eggs, the more likely the eggs are to later result in pregnancy.  Optimally, I recommend that a woman be under 35 when she freezes her eggs. Based on the probability of the eggs resulting in successful pregnancy, I would not recommend egg freezing after the age of 39.

Once eggs are frozen, where are they stored?  

Eggs are placed in vials and stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen.  We keep them on site at Cleveland Clinic IVF laboratory.

How long do you feel eggs can be stored safely?  

In theory, eggs can be stored this way indefinitely — no shelf life. Of course, the woman who owns the eggs must take responsibility for making appropriate decisions for the ultimate use of her cryopreserved eggs.  If she chooses not to use them to become pregnant, her options are to 1) donate them to someone else, 2) discard them, 3) donate them to research.

Is there a cut-off age that you recommend for women to have eggs thawed, fertilized and transferred in a cycle?

Cryopreserved eggs are the property of the woman who froze them.  Ultimately, it is her decision how old is too old.  The wisdom of her decision includes not just medical, but social and ethical issues as well.  For example, it may be medically acceptable for a woman to become pregnant at 60, but what does it mean for a child to be born to a mother who is at significant risk for serious health problems and even death before he/she reaches maturity.

Has your clinic had live births from frozen eggs? How many?

We have thawed frozen embryos for 11 patients. Six have had successful pregnancies.

What is the price range for freezing eggs, and what does that range cover?

The cost of freezing eggs is essentially the cost of doing the IVF cycle, approximately $9,000.  There is a yearly storage fee as well.

What are the reasons a woman would NOT be a good candidate for freezing her eggs?

Women who are not healthy enough to complete an IVF cycle.  Clearly women must be within their reproductive years; egg quality deteriorates as women age so that eggs frozen in the late 30s and 40s are unlikely to result in pregnancy.

What is the most exciting aspect of ASRM lifting the experimental label? How do you think this will change the face of fertility treatment?

For the first time, we have the opportunity to offer a woman in her early 30s a realistic chance to pursue her life choices without sacrificing her opportunity to have biologic children. While a man’s fertility continues throughout most of his life, loss of fertility with age is 100 percent predictable for all women. By the age of 45, few women are able to become pregnant, and, of those who can, many will miscarry.

Increasingly women delay child bearing for a variety of social and economic reasons. The option to cryopreserve “young” eggs represents the first realistic opportunity to preserve their fertility.

What should a woman look for in a clinic that does egg freezing?

A woman who wants to freeze eggs should look for an IVF program that has a successful embryo freezing program, as well as an established record of successful pregnancies from cryopreserved eggs.

If you are interested in egg freezing, CLICK HERE and we will will put you in contact with the Cleveland Clinic Fertility Center or a fertility clinic near you!

December 12, 2012
Posted by Leigh Ann Woodruff

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