Freezing your sperm for a later date sounds like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. But for some men, cryopreservation is the best option for biological fatherhood. In this episode of the DCYB Roadshow, we talk with Brown University’s Dr. Kathleen Hwang about the options for freezing your abominable snow men.
Why It’s Popular
Cancer seriously sucks. Thankfully, cure rates are on the rise and treatments are getting more advanced, which means more time can be spent on improving the quality of life for cancer patients. For men diagnosed with cancer, before they begin a treatment regimen,they can bank sperm for future use. This gives cancer patients some control over their fertility,as well as an an insurance policy for biological fatherhood. This option is also popular for vasectomy and vasectomy reversal patients, to ensure that they still have the option of biological fatherhood, regardless of the procedure’s outcome.
Getting the Sperm
Break out those plastic cups, gentlemen, it’s time to get freezing. You’ve probably guessed what goes into the traditional way of collecting the sperm sample, but what happens if there’s no sperm in the ejaculate, or if ejaculation for the patient isn’t physically possible? You have a few options..
More than just a cool acronym, TESE stands for testicular sperm extraction. It involves surgically opening up the testes, taking out tiny pieces of tissue and examining them with a very powerful microscope to find usable sperm. These sperm can then be harvested from the tissue and frozen like any other sample.
It may sound like something from a bad pickup line, but assisted ejaculation is very scientific. If a patient’s nervous system is preventing them from ejaculating, assisted ejaculation can be used to collect a sample to freeze, either through Penile Vibratory Stimulation or Electroejaculation.
Sperm were first frozen in the 1700′s, and it was about as reliable as you think it was. The first few centuries for sperm preservation involved a lot of trial and error. However, modern medicine has developed something called cryoprotectants, chemicals used to protect the sperm from the dangerous freezing and thawing process.
So after the sperm is harvested and processed it’s exposed to a cryoprotectant and then placed in separate vials. These vials can be used to estimate how much sperm was collected from the sample. The vials are then placed in liquid nitrogen, where they wait until they’re needed, like Han Solo in Carbonite.
After the Ice Age
So it’s time for the ultimate question we’re sure you’ve been wondering for this entire post, “can sperm get freezer burn?”. The answer is a little complicated. After the first cycle of cryopreservation, up to 30-40% of a sample’s sperm motility is lost. This means that the chances of successful cryopreservation are proportional to the amount of sperm you had to begin with. However, birth rates of frozen sperm aren’t any worse than natural birth rates.
What We Learned
Advances in fertility preservation mean that cancer patients and other men who are about to undergo fertility damaging procedures have an insurance policy for biological fatherhood. While the success rate of conception varies based on the woman’s reproductive system and by the amount of sperm left motile after freezing, successful birth rates for cryopreservation are no different from natural birth rate.
So, gentlemen, in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, “Freeze well!”.
And now, some Mr. Freeze puns…