Vitrification of eggs and embryos: Pregnancy made easy for the working woman

Making pregnancy easy for working women

Making-pregnancy-easy-for-working-womenKim Kardashian has opted for it. Closer home, Diana Hayden has gone ahead and done it.

Facebook and Apple announced in 2014 that they would be offering monetary assistance for women employees who decide to go for it.

Yes, it is no longer science fiction. Nor is it any longer a prerogative of the rich and famous.

Egg vitrification is now accessible by all.

So what is vitrification all about?

Basically, oocyte cryopreservation is one part of the technique of freezing the cells of reproduction – sperm, egg or embryo – for long periods, in the anticipation of a suitable time for pregnancy in the future.

Earlier, the technique of freezing the egg was faulty, resulting in a short lifespan or damaged cell. Now, the process has been refined such that water crystallization inside the egg is avoided, and the cell is induced into a glass-like state, which is why it is called egg vitrification. Thence the vitrified egg is preserved in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -1960C. This way, the egg can be frozen for a period of 8 to 10 years, or until the woman is ready to go down the family way, whichever is earlier.

If pregnancy is to be induced, the entire process is reversed, and the egg is thawed. Sperm is injected into the egg, and embryo is created, which can then be transferred into the woman’s uterus.

How does it benefit a woman?

In today’s career driven world, women are faced with a tough choice: get married and start a family, or progress in the chosen career. If men are able to have the best of both worlds, why should women be left behind? Instead of marrying and having the first child at a young age, women are opting for the latest advance in fertility science.

Other than professionals or women who do not want to conceive early, this process is primarily indicated in cases where the woman has to postpone pregnancy due to medical reasons. Certain conditions predispose the woman to premature infertility due to the loss of ovarian reserve. These could include treatment with chemotherapy and/or pelvic radiation for cancer, and genetic disorders such as fragile X syndrome and single X-chromosome conditions such as Turner’s syndrome.

What is the cost involved?

In India, egg vitrification can cost anywhere between Rs 20,000 to 100,000, and varies from one fertility centre to another.

Is it painful?

Egg induction, harvesting, thawing and insertion can be undertaken with proper use of anesthesia and analgesia, making the process relatively pain free.

What is the success rate?

It is better to assess the woman’s ovarian reserve (the number of viable eggs that she is likely to produce during her reproductive age) by doing the anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) level test. This can then be used to plan the process of egg vitrification. The earlier a woman decides to preserve eggs, better the prospects. The quality of eggs is good in the 20s and early 30s, and deteriorates as the woman approaches menopause, reducing the chance of later pregnancy through egg vitrification and IVF. Also, as of now, the harvested egg can be preserved for a maximum of 10 years, which is why it is important to plan the entire process in advance.

Are there any disadvantages?

There is not enough scientific data currently to entirely vouch for the safety and efficacy of egg vitrification. There is no guarantee that the egg or embryo would not be damaged during the entire process – harvesting, storage, thawing and fertilization. It is also too early to assess the health of the children born through egg vitrification; although the health of the developing fetus can be assessed through blood tests and scans during the early course of the pregnancy.

A thorough assessment and proper pre-procedure counseling done on a case-to-case basis would go a long way in helping women make the right choice.