Servy Massey Fertility Institute (SMFI) opened its doors in 2011 with the belief that fertility treatment should be made easily accessible to all prospective patients. This month, Dr. Servy and Dr. Massey expanded their services by offering oocyte (unfertilized eggs) vitrification thereby affording women more control over their fertility.
Vitrification is a new method of cryopreservation, preferred by fertility specialists for its simplified process over the traditional technique of slow freezing. Last October, American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) removed its label of vitrification as “experimental,” thereby granting clinics nationally the freedom to focus efforts on oocyte preservation.
In preparation for the changes, Dr. Edouard Servy (founding partner of SMFI) requested the help of Italian biochemist Giovanna Di Emidio who specializes in oocyte vitrification. Di Emidio spent more than a week teaching the new method to SMFI embryologists Yaqi and Karla, which is similar to the embryo vitrification technique that they have been using for years.
Giovanna Di Emidio, who graduated from the University of L’Aquila in central Italy, focused her studies in reproductive biology. Dr. Di Emidio spent extensive time in Germany researching the link between the aging of oocytes and oxidative stress, as well as in Spain where she worked on vitrifying oocytes.
Dr. Di Emidio, who “was convinced to study biotechnology after seeing the difficulties a friend encountered while trying to get pregnant”, likens the role of an embryologist to that of a baby sitter: “he or she takes care of the eggs, keeps them outside the incubator the minimum amount of time and makes sure that they stay at the correct temperature, with clean air and dim light.”
Dr. Servy said he invited the specialist, “because Italy is far advanced in oocyte cryopreservation by vitrification.” In 2004, Italy passed law restricting the freezing of embryos to reinforce social perception surrounding the issue. The law prohibited fertility clinics and laboratories from fertilizing more than three oocytes. Italian laboratories therefore began freezing all extra oocytes.
Who could benefit from oocyte freezing?
- Through oocyte vitrification, donated eggs can be used whenever a recipient needs them, without having to worry about donor synchronization.
- Women who are about to receive cancer treatment (chemotherapy, radiation therapy) and want to protect their oocytes for future conception.
- Young women who are not yet ready for a pregnancy, however would like to preserve their fertility.
Dr. Di Emidio spent six days working with the lab’s embryologists for training. “The user instructions for vitrification are no secret,” she explained, “but there are many tricks to practice if you want to achieve the best possible results.”
In her work with SMFI, Dr. Di Emidio demonstrated her method by splitting eggs into two groups, injecting eggs from the first group with sperm and froze the remaining eggs to thaw and inject at a later date. The following day embryologists compared their results, finding that fertilization of the frozen eggs provided results similar to conventional IVF.
“The fertilized frozen eggs turned into beautiful embryos that grew into the blastocyst day five stage,” said Dr. Servy. “It means they stand a good chance to implant in the uterus and lead to a healthy pregnancy.”
“Oocyte vitrification is a new procedure for our clinic,” said Karla after a training session. “Just as Servy-Massey’s low-cost IVF has dramatically increased traffic to our lab, so too oocyte vitrification will be a tool to reach a large population of women seeking increased accessibility for fertility.”
By Claire Perez