Freezing Our Biological Clocks: Dr. Elsner
-Laura Roe Stevens, Divine Caroline
Wouldn’t it be great if you could have your baby whenever you wanted? Can you imagine a world where you weren’t constantly hearing that menacing tick-tock of your biological clock? In this world, you would be in control and could choose the time of conception-perhaps in your mid-forties and not by donor egg. You could have your genetic child created with your egg and your partner’s sperm. Well, that world is now approaching, thanks to DivineCaroline’s Fertile Thoughts columnist, Dr. Carlene W. Elsner, and her team of infertility specialists in Atlanta.
After talking with Dr. Elsner, I so wish I were about four years younger. Of course, many women in their late thirties say that. But I’m specifically thinking of how amazing it would be to take advantage of this revolutionary egg freezing technology that Dr. Elsner’s team at Reproductive Biology Associates will be presenting to medical societies worldwide.
You may be confused, thinking that women can already freeze their eggs. Yes, women can currently freeze their eggs-but this technology doesn’t work so well for the person who’d like to inseminate those eggs later with the sperm of their choosing. The technology that truly works today is with frozen embryos-which requires women to inseminate their eggs with sperm before freezing them, which defeats the purpose for women who haven’t met their partners yet, but want to preserve their eggs before reaching their thirty-fifth birthday, as older eggs are less likely to create healthy embryos.
“I am very excited. We are truly revolutionizing fertility for women worldwide. No one has this technology currently and freezing eggs, thawing them, and inseminating them at a later date does not work well and is costly. … This technology has proven results!” says Dr. Elsner.
The results she is referring to stems from the astonishing pregnancy rates from her first trial. In this study, her team, including Scientific and Laboratory Director Zsolt Peter Nagy, PhD, tested the egg-freezing technology by first freezing donated eggs from women between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-four years. The scientists then thawed these eggs and inseminated them with sperm from partners of twenty Atlanta-area women. The embryos were then implanted in these twenty women, between the ages of thirty-two and forty-seven years. The results are phenomenal: seventeen women became pregnant; five healthy babies have already been born to three women and three more babies, that have been chromosomally tested and shown to be normal, are due next month. All other pregnancies are ongoing.
What’s the bottom line?
This technology allows women approaching thirty-five to freeze their eggs, store them in infertility clinics and inseminate them at a later date, with the sperm of the man of their choosing and successfully become pregnant. And, for women who had uterine cancer or aren’t healthy enough to endure pregnancy-their genetic embryo can be implanted in someone else to carry.
“I believe this technology should revolutionize the way we do egg donation, making it much cheaper, easier, and more available with less wait time to treatment,” Dr. Elsner reiterates.
DivineCaroline’s Fertile Thoughts columnist stressed three other important ways this technology will dramatically affect the lives of women and daresay, alter the ethical dilemmas now facing couples and politicians:
1. “It makes it possible for young, unmarried women facing sterilizing chemotherapy and /or irradiation treatment for cancer to preserve eggs, not just embryos, for later use after they have recovered from their disease.” This is especially important for teenage cancer patients who clearly have not chosen their partner.
2. “It makes it practical for young women to preserve eggs for future use for fertility preservation. That way they may not be faced with the same problems Alexis Stewart, Martha Stewart’s daughter has now.” (Alexis is currently undergoing IVF with donor sperm and paying $28,000 a pop, according to her account given on the Oprah Show.) This is particularly useful for women who have demanding positions or life circumstances that do not allow them to pursue pregnancy during the years when they are most fertile.
3. “There is no longer the need to create large numbers of possibly unneeded embryos if we can now freeze eggs efficiently because we can now create embryos as we need them,” stresses Dr. Elsner. Current embryo freezing techniques require lots of extra embryos, which creates obvious ethical dilemmas about what should be done with them. Couples currently wrangle over whether to destroy the sometimes twenty extra embryos, or to donate them to infertile couples (but of course, that means your children are being raised elsewhere) or to donate them for stem cell research (which our current president opposes.) “Debate about these unused embryos is a hot topic as you know. The problem could largely go away with egg freezing,” Dr. Elsner explains.
And if you are in your late thirties, like I am, when reading this, take heart. Dr. Elsner’s team is currently in the midst of another study and this one is using frozen eggs from women aged thirty-four to thirty-eight years. The pregnancy success rates from these older frozen eggs, which will later be thawed and inseminated and implanted, could open the egg freezing option to an older group of women-so stay tuned!
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