Nation's Largest Fertility Center Helps More Patients Achieve Success with the Use of Frozen Embryos

ROCKVILLE, Md., Oct. 13, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- According to Shady Grove Fertility Center's 2010 IVF statistics, the number of clinical pregnancies resulting from frozen embryos was 804, a 25% increase over 2009.  Additionally, the percentage of clinical pregnancies per embryo transfer with frozen embryos rose to 49% in 2010, making Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) success rates nearly identical to pregnancy rates with fresh embryos over the same period of time.  The growth and success rates from Frozen Embryo Transfers allow more patients the opportunity to build their families quicker, with less invasive treatment protocols and less expense.

As word is spreading about the increasing success of the FET, more Shady Grove Fertility Center patients are using their frozen embryos from previous fresh In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) cycles to now have their second and third children years later without going through a new IVF cycle. Shady Grove Fertility Center has already performed 800 FET cycles this year and is on track to perform nearly 1,200 in 2011.

"FETs used to be considered the less talented understudy to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)," says Robert Stillman, MD, Board Certified Reproductive Endocrinologist and Medical Director at Shady Grove Fertility Center.  "In the past, if your embryos survived freezing and thawing, you had a chance of getting pregnant, but not the kind of chance you would have with another fresh cycle of IVF.  Now, all that has changed, and FET is the rising star of fertility treatment."

In the last few years, new techniques for freezing and storing embryos have provided a huge leap forward in Shady Grove Fertility Center's success rates with FET, nearly matching the success of fresh IVF cycles. In the traditional, slow freezing process, embryos would be exposed to multiple cryoprotectants, added in a specific order, over a 20 minute period. The cryoprotectant liquid would then be slowly cooled to -321 degrees Fahrenheit - the temperature of liquid nitrogen – until it was frozen. This two hours process was designed so that the cryoprotectants would infuse into the embryo's cells and protect it from ice. While it has been, and still is widely used, this method of freezing often results in the loss or damage of embryos upon thawing.

In 2009, Shady Grove Fertility Center began using a new technique called vitrification. This process uses the same principles as the old method of freezing, namely replacing the water inside the embryo with cryoprotectant, but instead of a gradual freeze, the embryo is cooled rapidly which protects the embryo inside the liquid.  In the final step of cryopreservation, the embryo is loaded onto a stick and plunged into liquid nitrogen.  Instead of freezing, it is supercooled so that the nitrogen becomes solid. This happens in about a minute. The embryo is then suspended in a glass-like bubble of the media.

When the vitrified embryos are thawed, they look nearly identical to when they were fresh.  With vitrification, the survival rate of embryos is about 95% and they have almost no loss of quality when thawed.

"Cost is usually the main concern of my IVF patients when we talk about freezing embryos, which is understandable," says Dr. Stillman. "That's why I talk to them about FET right from the beginning. I want them to be able to look at the cost-benefit analysis for themselves and see that if they are lucky enough to have embryos to freeze, it's definitely worth the cost."

A FET cycle is less than half the cost of a fresh IVF cycle even including the cost to cryopreserve and store the frozen embryos. For patients using the Shared Risk or Multi-Cycle Discount Programs, Frozen Embryo Transfer cycles are like free bonus cycles. Both programs allow for unlimited frozen cycles related to the fresh IVF cycles provided in those programs without counting toward program limits. For example, a patient can do a cycle of IVF and do two cycles of FET before being considered to have started cycle two of the six provided for in the Shared Risk Program.