November 05, 2006
Baby Born From 13 Year Old Frozen Embryo

An embryo frozen for 13 years was used to start a successful pregnancy.

The child could have been born in 1993 but its first experience of the world came 13 years later, or nine months after an embryo was pulled out of the freezer at a Spanish fertility clinic.

The clinic in Barcelona is claiming the world record for having brought about the birth of what could be termed the world's oldest baby. Conceived in a laboratory dish, but not used at the time, the embryo sat at minus 196C in a freezer cabinet awaiting its adoptive parents.

The original parents had donated the fertilised egg to the Instituto Marqués clinic after a sibling was born from a separate embryo successfully implanted in the mother's womb.

The ability to freeze embryos is useful for couples who have had to go the route of in vitro fertilization (IVF, a.k.a. test tube babies). They can store some embryos while trying to start a pregnancy with other embryos. If the pregnancy doesn't suceeed or if they decide they want still more children some embryos can be thawed out to try to start another pregnancy. One result of this practice is the gradual accumulation of thousands or perhaps tens of thousand of embryos in fertility clinics around the world.

Improvements in techniques to freeze embryos combined with the increasing use of IVF will increase the supply of surplus unused frozen embryos. Some Christian groups think those embryos are real human lives with souls and recruit married couples to try to start pregnancies with frozen embryos (a.k.a. embryo adoption) that are sitting in large numbers in freezers in fertility clinics. But advances in freezing technology and the increasing use of IVF both look set to increase the supply of embryos faster than Christians step forward to adopt them.

One trend I expect to emerge at some point: The ability to freeze embryos is going to become an added enticement for couples to start pregnancies with IVF rather than with good old fashioned sex. Why? Left-over embryos, freezable for decades, will serve as a sort of insurance policy should one or more of their kids die from an accident or disease. When the woman is still healthy enough to produce viable eggs couples could decide to do IVF, produce more embryos than they need, start one or more pregnancies, and then store some embryos in case the need arises or in case they just decide to have more kids when the woman reaches her late 30s or 40s.

Embryos are more robust than unfertilized eggs and embryos are easier to freeze and thaw. Alan B Copperman, MD. Director of Reproductive Endocrinology and Vice-Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, says recent improvements in freezing and thawing techniques has increased success rates in use of frozen eggs.

In the fall of 2004, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) issued an opinion on oocyte cryopreservation concluding that the science was "promising" due to the fact that recent laboratory modifications have resulted in improved oocyte survival, fertilization, and pregnancy rates from frozen-thawed oocytes in IVF. The ASRM noted that from the limited research performed to date, there does not appear to be an increase in chromosomal abnormalities, birth defects, or developmental deficits in the children born from cryopreserved oocytes. The ASRM recommends that, pending further research, oocyte cryopreservation should be introduced into clinical practice only on an investigational basis and under the guidance of an Institutional Review Board (IRB). As with any new technology, safety and efficacy must be evaluated and demonstrated through future research.

The problems with egg freezing may eventually be solved by freezing earlier stage germinal vesicle eggs which, among other qualities, have membranes that are more permeable to cryopreservation compounds. But methods to extract eggs that are at that earlier stage might need refinement to get eggs that are relatively less developed.

Advances in egg freezing technology strike me as more interesting and with more implications than advances in embryo freezing technology. Egg freezing has two big potential purposes. First off, women who are looking for Mr. Right can freeze some eggs in case Mr. Right doesn't show up before their fertility declines. Second, egg freezing could become a way to increase the size of the market for donor eggs.

The same Alan B Copperman, MD quoted abave has done a recent survey of a small group of single women who had their eggs frozen. 80% said they would consider using donor sperm if they could never find Mr. Right.

Although the study was small — it involved 20 women — it suggests that the first group to take up the option of egg-freezing are doing so chiefly to take their fertility into their own hands.

“A number of women said they were interested in egg-freezing to take the pressure off the search for relationships,” the researchers said. “Cryo-preservation meant the freedom to wait, and to not settle for a mate because they were in a rush to conceive.”

Women with eggs sitting frozen in a freezer might well become more choosy about men as a result. Take away the sense of a biological ticking clock for reproduction and women may become more reluctant to compromise and less willing to lower their standards in order to find a guy to marry and make babies with.

Technological advances change the trade-offs people face. It changes trade-offs in relationships just much as it does in careers. Advances in assisted reproduction technology (ART) could change human relationships even more dramatically than has the birth control pill and other means of contraception.

In theory the ability to freeze eggs opens up the possibility of a much larger market for donor eggs with greater choices. Currently women looking for donor eggs can only choose among women who they can find to supply fresh eggs. But imagine the world 30 years from now. A woman could choose among eggs that come from eggs frozen over a period of decades and from donors who are no longer young and fertile. Egg donors could produce and store a large number of eggs when they are young and then gradually sell them over a period of decades.

But in many legal jurisidictions around the world a substantial legal obstacle exists for the creation of a donor egg market that spans across generations: Restrictions on the ability to pay for female egg donation services. Some jurisdictions ban the practice entirely. Currently the United States does not allow payment for eggs but only allows payment for the service of creating the eggs.

The United States is one of many countries in which legislation and social norms proscribe the selling of body parts. It is also the world capital of the genetic material market: No other nation trades in DNA so widely and freely. Hopeful mothers and cash-strapped college students have been trading cash for eggs for 20 years, calling the ova a “donation” and the money compensation for time and discomfort, thus avoiding the ban on sales.

How can a woman sell her eggs over a period of decades and claim her sales pay for discomfort she experienced 20 or 30 years ago? Would this claim stand up in court? I have no legal expertise. On the answer to that question hinges the future of a potentially much larger market for donor eggs.

When DNA testing becomes cheap and highly informative (on the outside within 10 years) the value of a small portion of all donor eggs will go up dramatically. Women who can show by genetic testing that they have the genetic sequences that are most in demand (high IQ, desired personality characteristics, good looks, desired hair and eye color, resistance to assorted diseases, etc) will find their eggs suddenly fetch even larger premiums than the current high prices for Ivy League egg donors who want to sell their eggs.

Do you want to sell your eggs? Women who think they might have the right genetic stuff could freeze their eggs now and then offer them for sale 10 or 20 years from now when they can prove with genetic tests that they have the genetic variations that the market most demands. Such women could freeze their eggs now and then if they meet Mr. Right when they turn 40 they can use a few of their eggs then to start a family. Whether or not they meet Mr. Right they can use other eggs from their frozen stash to sell once the market places a high value on their genetic inheritance.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 November 05 02:50 PM  Biotech Reproduction

Mark Plus said at November 5, 2006 9:10 PM:

What a horrible thing to do to a human being, ripping it from its historical context and casting into into an alien future world where it won't fit in!

Joseph Hertzlinger said at November 5, 2006 9:41 PM:

The iceman stayeth.

BTW, wasn't this in a James Schmitz story?

Mthson said at November 6, 2006 12:28 PM:

Randall, reading futurepundit always makes me wonder.. do you recommend males freeze their sperm if they anticipate reproducing past the age of 35-40? Or, since sperm quality is said to decrease slowly even in the 20s, would freezing younger than 35 be even better? Might there be subtle negative effects on the quality of sperm from freezing?

Folu said at September 23, 2007 12:01 PM:

This is just crazy, really. You mean a normal woman will want to sell her eggs, her "children"! It is just horrible!

Folu said at September 23, 2007 12:04 PM:

This is just crazy, really. You mean a normal woman will want to sell her eggs, her "children"! It is just horrible!

Steph said at August 9, 2008 3:23 AM:

it's not crazy at all! those women are bestowing a very high level of generousity to those who cannot for whatever reproductive reasons procreate themselves. don't have such a selfish prospective- only speaks volumes of your thought process.

aussie said at November 24, 2008 4:33 PM:

havin just gone thru ivf myself anyone who "chooses" to do ivf for convenience is seriously in need of help...

Bent Myggen said at January 3, 2010 1:09 AM:

The mind boggles with posibilities. Now a woman can meet "Mr Right", freeze his sperm and her eggs at the moment of conception, and wait until the relationship has stood the test of time before having children. Wow.

Perhaps couples hoping for better economical times could set up a trust to release the embryo when the stockmarket broke 14,000 again. Even if the parents both die in a trainwreck or are too busy, the love-child could still be born by a hired surrogate and perhaps raised by a foundation.

What a sweet thought. Humanity finally free of all the pesky limitations of mortality - or morality - for that matter.
The thought is similar in arrogance to those who say of a newborn baby-boy, "oh, my goodness we don't know how 40 million years of evolution could make such a mistake - here, we know better, let's go ahead and improve his penis by circumsizing it".

The mind boggles.
The heart shudders.

Kris said at January 16, 2010 1:15 PM:

Although I agree with Bent Myggen that human beings have become far too corrupt with their lack of a appreciation for the way reproduction is supposed to naturally work, that these are not restrictions but gifts, a woman should have the right to choose not to have a child with a douchebag, and still be sexually active (for her health and happiness) while determining if he would be a good father.
This is why I also agree with Steph, that these women are doing favors for other women and families, although I think it should be not be compensated, to make sure that this is not done because it is easy money and thus becomes popular, but because people actually care and want to DONATE FOR FREE. For these reasons, I also support abortion (which is actually not something that humans came up with, other species have been doing it longer that we have-- female deer) and contraception (although I generally engourage women not to use the pill or latex considering a LOT of women and their bodies react badly to it, there are homeopathic herbs that when ingested can increase or decrease fertility and cause one to naturally abort, which would leave other methods as a last resort) and also for stem cell research to cure STDs, if it is more properly regulated (for instance, cure my little sister's diabetes already and quit shagging with the cosmetic industry and making products for rich snobby 50 year olds to look like they're actually 20, you sickos).
I also am against circumcision (both on males and females) although I do not think people do it for medical purposes thinking that we can make the penis more functional and safer by doing so, no American health organization supports this theory, and it is just a modern day excuse among parents. For the most part it is done for social reasons (I don't want my son to be embarresed in the locker room), aesthetic reasons ("I want my child to look like his father DOWN THERE"-how sick it that?-) and religious reasons. Think about it, genital mutilation is most common in areas where, in a sick double-standard way- virginity and prostitution is an obsession. Males are circumcised because no male is born a virgin. THINK ABOUT IT! His penis rubs right against his mother's vagina when coming out, sorry if that disturbs anyone to think about but it's the truth, so men have to "sacrifice" (without their consent) a part of their body because a group of men who hate sexual women are disgusted by the fact that children are born through a woman's vagina. Sick, isn't it? I don't care what the bible, koran, or tora says, what I just said is the REAL reason they all started it.
I've also heard the arguement that the egyptians brought it to the hebrews, but it was the opposite way around. If you see the wall-paintings and whatnot, it shows the same skin-color recognition people do today in movies like the prince of egypt. The egytians are shown having darker skin than the hebrews. The ones with the darker skin are the ones being forced to be circumcised. It is a purely monotheistic patriarchal practice in origin.

wendy said at September 6, 2012 7:36 AM:

To Whom it May Concern:

I have 4 frozen embryos available. Perhaps you can help with what to do with them. I have 1 son from them, donated 5 already and the couple is expecting in October. I still have the 4 left.

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