Cryopreservation is the process of freezing tissue. In the case of sperm cryopreservation, a man's semen is frozen for future use. A sperm cryobank is a facility that collects, stores, and freezes the sperm.
Sperm banking is used in a variety of different situations. Most commonly, men bank sperm because they are about to undergo treatments or take medications that may affect their sperm production.
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CHOOSING THE BANK
For example, you may want to consider cryobanking if:
- You will be undergoing a treatment for cancer that may impair your sperm production or quality (e.g., chemotherapy, radiation).
- You will be taking any ongoing medications that may impair your sperm production or quality (e.g., sulfasalazine, methotrexate).
- You will be undergoing any procedure that could affect your testes or prostate, or your ability to ejaculate (e.g., prostate resection, colon surgery, or retroperitoneal lymph node dissection).
- You have a medical condition that is beginning to affect your ability to ejaculate (e.g., multiple sclerosis, diabetes).
- You are undergoing a vasectomy.
- You are entering a line of work where you may be introduced to reproductive toxins.
- As part of your infertility treatment, you will be undergoing a procedure where sperm may be easily harvested (e.g., vas reconstruction, testicular biopsy). These sperm can then be stored and used later in conjunction with advanced reproductive techniques if alternative infertility treatments do not prove successful.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and we encourage you to discuss the issue with your doctor.
M.A.Z.E. Laboratories is a proud member of LIVESTRONG's Sharing Hope Program. As a participating center in the Sharing Hope Program, M.A.Z.E. Laboratories works with LIVESTRONG to increase access to fertility preservation services for cancer patients. To apply or for more information, please visit www.livestrong.org/fertilehope.
Sperm banking is, in most cases, a simple and straightforward process. It is not time consuming nor "appointment intensive." Although the process differs slightly between cryobanks, the basic procedure remains similar:
- An appointment is set with the laboratory to meet with a lab representative, review your case history and medical background, and fill out necessary paperwork.
- Many labs require an initial test freeze of the sperm before actually conducting the banking. Some labs require that you return for a second appointment, while others conduct the tests and banking during your first visit.
- You may be given a choice of producing a specimen at home or at the lab site. If you choose to collect at a laboratory, you will be given a private room. Visual material may also be made available to you. If you choose to collect at home, you will be given clear and exact instructions.
- You may choose to bank sperm from one ejaculation (one collection yields 1 to 6 vials of sperm). However, in most cases, it is desirable to bank more ejaculates. On average, patients bank 3, as the quality of the sperm often necessitates using more than one vial of sperm for each attempt to achieve a pregnancy. If you choose to bank more ejaculates, you can do so by setting up further appointments for future collections. Ideally, you should leave a minimum of 2 days between appointments to build up your sperm count.
- The sperm is frozen for as long as you choose to maintain it.
- When you are ready to use the sperm, you notify the bank in writing. The bank then releases the specimen, shipping it to whatever physician you request.
- When and if you want the specimens destroyed, most facilities will do so only with notarized instructions from you.
FREEZING THE SPERM
Frozen sperm must be stored in extremely cold temperatures (-196 F), but in order to ensure that the fewest possible sperm are damaged, the freezing must be gradual. Generally, the following procedure is followed:
- If the sperm hasn't been previously tested, a comprehensive semen analysis should be performed on the first specimen in order to give you a complete picture of your sperm quantity and quality. Make sure that your sperm bank conducts a thorough semen analysis before banking. This will give you significant information on the quality of the sperm.
- Each subsequent specimen is analyzed prior to freezing to assess total number of moving sperm.
- Immediately after the specimen is analyzed, it is divided into smaller batches and transferred into vials for freezing. A special compound (a cryoprotectant) is added to aid the freezing process.
- The test tubes are gradually frozen in liquid nitrogen vapor, letting the sperm freeze slowly. After 30 to 60 minutes, they are transferred into liquid nitrogen tanks for permanent frozen storage.
- After a minimum of 48 hours have elapsed from the time of the initial freezing, an initial "test sample" is thawed and tested again to ascertain from each specimen how well the sperm survived the freezing. After the banking is complete, the results may be sent to you or discussed with your primary care physician. This information will be important to determine which specimen vials to thaw for an insemination.
Each sample is stored in its own specially marked storage unit. Some cryobanks split the specimens, storing half of any individual's specimens in two separate nitrogen tanks in case of tank malfunction. Some may actually store the two tanks on separate physical sites in case of an unforeseeable disaster to the building in which a tank is stored. The nitrogen tanks are checked daily for temperature and liquid nitrogen leakage.