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Embryo Vitrification

embryo-vitrification

Many couples or individual women who undergo test tube baby treatment have started to warm up to the idea of freezing their embryos for future use. Thanks to the high IVF success rate in India, patients usually end up with a few extra embryos after getting pregnant. With embryo vitrification, these embryos can be frozen and used in the future in case the patient desires to have another child. This is another benefit of the continuously lowering IVF treatment cost which has enabled more and more childless couples to opt for the treatment. Because of that embryo vitrification, which was an expensive procedure not too long ago, has become more affordable thanks to economies of scale.

What is Oocyte & Embryo Vitrification?

When a patient undergoes IVF treatment, she might produce multiple egg cells (oocytes). If fertilized, these eggs cells will develop into embryos. In many instances, patients choose to cryopreserve (freeze) their oocytes (egg cell) or the embryos resulting from them. Traditional methods of cryopreservation, however, tend to harm the structure of cells during the freezing process. This reduces the viability of the cells significantly.

This is where vitrification steps in. It is an innovative cryopreservation method that is used to preserve oocytes and embryos. The method offers an exceptionally fast rate of cooling (it is 7,000 times faster than slow freezing) and more importantly, does not let ice crystals form within the cells. The usual embryo vitrification procedure takes less than 10 minutes.

Once frozen, the oocyte or embryo is stored individually in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees Celsius. Such a low temperature ensures all cellular activity within the oocyte or embryo is virtually halted. This allows the oocytes or embryos to retain their viability for an indefinite period of time. The infrastructure required for embryo vitrification is available with only a handful of facilities vying for the title of the best IVF center in India.

When a patient chooses to get pregnant using one of their vitrified oocytes or embryos, a thawing process that replaces the cryoprotectant (the material that prevents the cells from freezing) with water is employed. This is an important step in the frozen embryo transfer process. The water rehydrates the cryopreserved cells and makes them usable again. Because of this, the frozen embryo transfer success rates with vitrification are remarkably high. By 2018, almost all top most IVF centers in India prefer vitrification method of freezing over slow freezing.

Which Embryos are Chosen for Thawing?

Oocyte vitrification can be used by,

  • Women who suffer from a poor ovarian response.
  • Women who are suffering from cancer and are about to undergo gonado-toxic treatments and procedures like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
  • Women who are about to undergo ovarian surgery because of issues like endometriosis.
  • Women who, for various reasons, want to postpone having a child.

A fertility clinic in India offers embryo cryopreservation as an option to,

  • Patients for whom it’s preferable to schedule an embryo transfer in a cycle different from the one where follicle stimulation happens due to any one or more of the following reasons,
    • Risk of OHSS (Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome).
    • Inappropriate hormonal profile.
    • Absence of sperm on the day of egg retrieval.
    • Presence of hydrosalpinx, hydrometra or polyps.
  • Patients who have an excess of high quality embryos apart from the one chosen for the embryo transfer process. Vitrifying these additional embryos enables patients to undergo future embryo transfer procedures without going through the entire stimulation cycle again.

How Long Can the Embryos be Stored?

There is no uniform consensus on how long an embryo can be stored. The first human embryo freezing procedures were developed in the mid-1980s and saw widespread usage only in the late 1980s. That means the longest period that human embryos have been stored is between 25 and 30 years. While there is no way to know if a frozen embryo will remain viable beyond that time frame, it’s likely that it will retain its viability indefinitely if stored in liquid nitrogen and under the strictest protocols. To increase the chances of the embryo retaining its viability over a long storage period, it is advisable to store embryos at the finest IVF or best surrogacy center in India only.

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