Boost for fertility treatments14th September 2010
A new freezing technique developed by researchers in Chile is the best way of storing sperm for use in fertility treatments, recent research has shown.
The technique could also make it possible for HIV-positive men to safely donate their sperm, since it involves removing the part of the sperm that houses the virus.
Usually, when sperm is stored, it is slowly frozen and then placed in liquid nitrogen.
The new method does not do away with the old process entirely, but adds several steps to the existing method.
The researchers said that the new method results in both more usable sperm and less damaged sperm.
Cancer patients who want their sperm stored prior to chemotherapy may also benefit from the new process, since the existing sperm storage methods may diminish the usability of frozen sperm to as little as 5%.
For the study, the researchers tested an alternative approach to freezing sperm and then used conventional measurements to quantify its viability.
They found that 80% of the sperm they had stored remained viable once it was thawed.
The process, known as vitrification, involves extracting part of the sperm which is known as 'plasma', then adding a sucrose solution to serve in its place.
Some researchers are sceptical, however.
Robert Oates, professor of urology at Boston University School of Medicine, said that he was not sure whether or not the discovery would improve in vitro fertilisation rates, although he did not doubt the usefulness of the technique in some areas.
Other researchers praised the results.
Ian Cooke, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Sheffield in England, said that the new process was a logical next step for sperm storage.
Mathew Tomlinson, a fertility specialist and scientist at Nottingham University Hospitals in England, said that only 25-30% of sperm survive from even the best samples, and that fertility scientists welcomed any advancement that made for better sperm storage.
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