Semen freezing, which is also known as semen cryopreservation or sperm banking/freezing, is a procedure that preserves sperm cells. It is a technique designed to preserve & store sperm in a sperm bank for future use with the use of special chemical protectants. Sperms can be stored in the liquid nitrogen at -196°C for many years with a reasonably good quality and can be available for use when needed, in future. Sperm banks can also collect and store donor sperms. Storing your sperm may enable you to use them for treatment in the future. Frozen Sperms (including donor sperm) thus exhibit the opportunity for future use in IVF and IUI.
Cryopreservation is the advanced process of storing tissues, cells or organs at a very low temperature to preserve their viability. These cells or tissues can be revived by thawing under proper conditions and reused. In assisted reproductive technology we often have to freeze sperms, eggs or embryos. Semen freezing is the easiest and the most commonly used technique of all.
By freezing it, a semen sample can be used in future when required. The cryopreservation process ensures the viability of the sperm is retained for an indefinite period of time. In future, the frozen semen can be thawed and used to inseminate or fertilize the female egg, which could be done through an artificial insemination technique like test tube baby treatment.Sperm freezing is a safe, simple, established and no risk associated procedure, which has resulted in many successful pregnancies.
Before freezing of sperms in bank, couples should undergo a thorough counselling with the expert infertility specialist and obtain information about sperm cryopreservation technique and its outcomes. Sperm cryopreservation is carried out by expert IVF specialist and andrologist in the government authorized sperm banks which are well equipped with specialised freezing and storing equipments.
Rate of conception through frozen sperm is high as andrologists do analyze the motility and mobility of the frozen sperm before IVF or IUI starts. Sperm cells have been frozen, thawed and successfully used in treatment for more than 40 years, although not all sperm survive the freezing process and is quite variable.
When should one think of sperm freezing and storage?
Human Sperm cryopreservation is important for multiple reasons. There are several scenarios where the semen freezing technique is recommended by fertility specialists or chosen by the individuals/ couples themselves. These include-
- Semen cryopreservation is routinely done as part of an IVF or IVF-ICSI cycle. The purpose of semen freezing during these treatments is to ensure there is a backup sperm sample in case the male partner is unable to produce a sperm sample on the day of egg retrieval or is not present on day of egg retrieval. Thus it ensures availability of sperms during an IVF treatment and also for subsequent cycles. Semen freezing is also done if the male partner is unable to produce a sperm sample on demand, which is mainly caused by anxiety.
- Sperm freezing is recommended to males whose sperm counts are low and may be falling further or in case where the sperm quality is deteriorating steadily in spite of taking therapeutic measures.
- The method can be part of an IUI treatment if the male partner is not available on days when his female partner ovulates. (Non availability of male during IUI or IVF treatment)
- Semen cryopreservation is also used in IUI rounds that are done using donor sperm. The donor sample by default needs to be frozen and quarantined for at least six months. At either end of this six month period, the sample is tested for HIV, HCV, and HBsAg.
- In the event that surgical sperm retrieval techniques like PESA/TESE/TESA are used to obtain sperm, cryopreservation is used to preserve the sperm for use in future IVF-ICSI rounds. This does away with the need to repeat the invasive procedure during the IVF-ICSI cycle.
- In case of remarriage or death of a child , one may want to use back up frozen sperm sample
- Patients at Risk- Occupational hazards, in sports, exposure to high temperature etc.
- One may want to consider freezing the sperm he has a condition or is facing medical treatment for a condition, that may affect his fertility.
- Fertility Preservation : Patients taking some medical treatment that may affect his fertility; Patients with cancer to preserve their fertility prior to gonadotoxic chemotherapy or radiation – Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are known to be toxic to the gonads lead to deterioration in not just sperm counts but sperm quality as well; Patients undergoing certain types of pelvic or testicular surgeries.
- Undergoing Vasectomy (This is a surgical procedure for permanent contraception in males in which small tubes of scrotum that carry sperm are cut or blocked off, so sperm can’t enter into the urethra and prevents pregnancy). For Fertility preservation
- Patients with other medical conditions diabetes (may cause erectile difficulty) etc.
- Certain types of pelvic or testicular surgery (prevents sperm to enter into the urethra)
- Life threatening occupations (Personals of Armed Forces).
- Planning a late pregnancy. Among urban couples where both are busy in their professional lives, sperm freezing is a reliable and unique opportunity to have baby in later age.
What is the actual process of sperm freezing?
- Prior to the cryopreservation process, the fertility specialist explains the process in detail.
- Before collecting the semen sample, a fertility clinic tests the candidate’s blood for HIV, HCV and HBsAg. Depending on the situation and the individual’s health, other tests might be advised.
- After a three day abstinence from ejaculation, the individual is asked to produce a fresh semen sample. (Sample is collected by at least two days after intercourse and difference between collecting sample is two days)
- This semen sample is then analyzed microscopically before being frozen.
- Every sample is combined with a cryoprotectant solution that allows sperm to survive the freezing and storage process.
- Samples are placed in labelled cryovials
- Cryovials are slowly frozen in liquid nitrogen vapour first then . in liquid nitrogen and stored in cryogenic tanks at a temperature of -196°Cfor future use.
- A report of the cryopreservation is generated and shared with the individual.
- Depending upon the purpose for which the semen sample is frozen for, multiple sperm samples might be asked for.
Looking at both sides of Semen Freezing!
There are absolutely no risks associated with freezing or cryopreserving human sperm. Moreover, the sperm freezing success rate is very high and the fertilizing ability of a sperm can be preserved indefinitely through cryopreservation.
A robust sperm cryopreservation programme at Anmol Fertility & IVF Centre , shows technical advantages like reduced risk of cross-contamination or of microbial contamination, mitigation of induction of morphological changes but more importantly since the team understands the significance of each frozen semen sample to the needy couple, quality checks are meticulous & principles of cryobiology are strictly adhered to.