Clinic to offer free freezing for egg sharers to increase awareness, access and diversity
The world’s first frozen embryo twin Jamie Facer-Childs met some of Bourn Hall Wickford’s first patients when he came to launch its advanced fertility preservation service on the first day of Spring.
The new egg bank will enable access to a greater diversity of donated eggs and make it easier for women facing surgery – or another life event that will impact their fertility – to freeze their own eggs and keep their chance of having a baby.
Many women who would benefit from egg freezing for medical reasons are not made aware of this option, as Martyn Blayney, Science Director of Bourn Hall, explains. He says: “As Jamie demonstrates we have been able to offer embryo and sperm freezing for several decades, but eggs are more delicate structures and up until now very few ‘frozen egg babies’ are born each year.
As a result, women having treatment which might damage their ovaries such as surgery or cancer therapies are not routinely offered the chance to preserve their fertility through egg freezing.”
Bourn Hall was the world’s first IVF clinic and has developed the techniques and drug regimes that are now used internationally; as a result it has in-depth knowledge of the female endocrine (hormone) system. Cryopreservation requires a fine balancing act, as the hormones used to collect and freeze eggs are those usually suppressed during treatment for breast cancer or ahead of a sex change.
Consultants at Bourn Hall work closely with oncologists and other specialists to ensure fertility preservation does not compromise treatment.
Martyn continues: “Our knowledge of egg development has increased significantly since we established a lab with Dr Melina Schuh of the Max Planck institute, which was the first to 3D image the process of chromosome division in live eggs. This work has shown some of the reasons why egg quality declines in women over 35. As a result, we would not recommend egg freezing to older women.”
To mark the opening of the new facility Bourn Hall is offering free egg freezing to women under 35 who are prepared to share some of their eggs with others.
The clinic hopes that this will also make it easier for women without a life partner to make this proactive decision while their eggs are of good quality, and also increase the diversity and supply of eggs for patients unable to conceive with their own eggs.
Martyn explains: “Egg sharing with fresh eggs means you need to match the donor with the recipient and synchronise the timing of their treatment. Having an egg bank will increase the quantity and diversity of eggs available, enabling patients who need donor eggs to have their treatment at the best time for them. We hope this will also reduce the number of patients having to travel abroad for donor egg treatment.”
Women who need IVF who egg share with Bourn Hall are already offered free IVF treatment. The new service will allow women who don’t currently need treatment, but want to preserve their eggs as an insurance policy, to benefit from free freezing. If they later require IVF treatment the cost will be considerably reduced as they already have some eggs in the bank – a win-win for all involved.