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New procedure freezes women's eggs, increases chance of motherhood later in life

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

For years, couples dealing with infertility have had to freeze their embryos because human eggs were too fragile to freeze. Now technology has improved and human eggs can be frozen, thawed and result in a pregnancy. It's an option more and more young women are choosing at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women.

Dr. Yanett Anaya is finishing her medical training but just beginning her career.

"I'm 31 and I'll be 34 when I complete my fellowship," she said.

Anaya is not ready for a family yet, but when she sees other women struggling to get pregnant, she worries.

"You definitely look at yourself and think I'm over that age and I haven't even thought about having children yet. And you think about when you get there is that gonna be a problem," Anaya said.

And it is a problem for many women who've delayed family for a career.

"I have two and a half more years of residency left and I probably want to do a fellowship so that will be another three years," Dr. Maya Kriseman said. "So I'll be about 33 years old when I'm graduated with everything."

Dr. Jennifer Riley isn't just concerned about her age, but also her health.

"I have a family history of ovarian cancer," Riley said. "If I don't get pregnant per se early enough then I may need to have my ovaries taken out before I have children."

Now all three of these young doctors are considering freezing their eggs.

The process begins with retrieval, which is done under green light to protect the eggs.

Typically 11 to 13 eggs are retrieved. Then the eggs are flash frozen in liquid nitrogen at 320 degrees below zero. Only recently has technology improved enough for the fragile human egg to be frozen and thawed successfully.

"We're seeing 80 to 90 percent thaw rates. We're seeing 70 to 80 percent fertilization rates and we're seeing implantation rates at 30 to 40 percent. But our numbers are still very, very small," said Dr. Williams Gibbons, a Baylor infertility professor.

Freezing eggs also eliminates the ethical issues of frozen embryos.

"I wasn't interested in embryo freezing or anything like that so the egg freezing was something I was interested in," Dr. Riley said.

"I think just the idea of egg freezing is a good option for a lot of women who are in fields such as myself, who are going to delay child bearing for a long time," Dr. Kriseman said.

Egg freezing may freeze a woman's biological clock, but doctors warn that clock is ticking faster than most women realize.

"We can determine that by the age of 32 they're less fertile," Dr. Gibbons said.

Dr. Gibbons says women who want to freeze their eggs, should do it sooner rather than later.

"A 28-year-old, you're old. Only one out of three eggs will make a baby," Dr. Gibbons said. "A 40-year-old, only one out of 10 eggs of hers will make a baby."

But egg freezing is expensive. It costs about $15,000-$25,000.

"It's an investment and people have to think about it that way," Dr. Kriseman said.

But for the first time, working women and women with medical problems will have the same option as men: A successful and non-controversial way to save their fertility.

"The reality is we have a biological clock and that's ticking, and I think egg freezing is a way to kind of stop the clock for a little bit," Dr. Anaya.

Last week, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine recommended that egg freezing no longer be considered experimental. That may pave the way for insurance coverage.

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