First a career, then kids: social freezing allows women to save their eggs and get pregnant later in life. The aim of these “egg banks” is to increase couples' flexibility in family planning. Many key factors, however, including the maximum age at which eggs can be harvested and fertilized eggs implanted, remain undefined. Is social freezing a viable option? Which couples can profit from the technology? Experts and scientists will discuss these questions at this year’s MEDICA EDUCATION CONFERENCE (MEC), an integral part of MEDICA in Düsseldorf, 12 - 15 November.
Modern couples tend to put off starting a family longer and longer: according to the German Federal Bureau of Statistics, the average age of first-time mothers today is 30 years. For women over 35, however, getting naturally pregnant starts becoming difficult. Social freezing offers a way around this age-related fertility limit. In this method a fertility specialist harvests unfertilized eggs from the woman. These eggs are then shock-frozen. “Stored in liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees Celsius, the eggs can be kept viable indefinitely, according to present knowledge," says Professor Dr. med. Jan-Steffen Krüssel, coordinator of the fertility center UniKiD at Düsseldorf’s Heinrich Heine University. “We can then artificially inseminate the egg and implant it in the mother’s womb at any desired point in time.” Yet Krüssel warns women not to postpone their decision for this method too long: the ideal age for egg harvesting and freezing is 25 to 30 years. After that point, the quality of the eggs starts declining, which in turn decreases the chance for successful insemination and implantation.
Egg freezing was originally developed to help cancer patients whose fertility was endangered by their treatment.
Yet the method now appeals to more and more healthy women who have postponed starting a family because they did not yet have the right partner or wanted to focus on their careers first, Krüssel explains as the MEDICA EDUCATION CONFERENCE draws closer: “Young women are under a lot of pressure regarding family planning. On the one hand, they want secure positions to offer their children financial safety. On the other hand their fertility declines with age, imposing clear limits."
A 2013 study with European social freezing patients highlights the appeal of the method. In a telephone survey over 90 % of patients contacted one year after the treatment said that they would recommend the method to their friends. The average age of the study participants at the time of egg harvesting and freezing was 36. Only half of them expects to be using their frozen eggs at some point. Yet none of them regretted their decision for the egg bank.
Results like these cause experts to expect a rise in demand for social freezing. “Before we recommend egg banks as a backup option for women or couples who want a family later in life we need to be sure about the parameters,” points out MEC President Professor Dr. med. Dr. h. c. Hendrik Lehnert. “For example, we still don’t know whether there should be an age limit for egg harvesting and fertilization or whether the patient should meet certain health requirements.” Further studies are necessary to determine these factors, he adds. Who can benefit from social freezing? And what points do fertility specialists need to take into consideration when consulting patients? Questions like these will be discussed by Professor Krüssel at MEDICA EDUCATION CONFERENCE, November 12th at Düsseldorf. The conference is part of MEDICA, the world’s largest medical technology congress, November 12th through 15th in Düsseldorf.
Stoop et al.: “Oocyte banking for anticipated gamete exhaustion (AGE): a follow-up study,” 2013.
MEDICA EDUCATION CONFERENCE (MEC)
Date: 12. November 12th through 15th, 2014
Place: Düsseldorf exhibition grounds, CCD Süd
During MEDICA EDUCATION CONFERENCE, there will be press conferences on 12, 13 and 14 November from 12.15 pm to 1.15 pm.
MEDICA EDUCATION CONFERENCE
MEC Public Relations Office
Anne-Katrin Döbler/ Stephanie Priester
Postfach 30 11 20
Tel: +49 (0)711 8931-605
Fax: +49 (0)711 8931-167
Messe Düsseldorf GmbH
Press Office MEDICA 2014
Martin-Ulf Koch/ Larissa Browa
Tel.: +49 (0)211 4560-444
Fax: +49 (0)211 4560-8548
Düsseldorf, November 2014