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Deep Freezing of Semen & Embryos

Within the laboratory at Reproductive Health and Fertility Center, we have a tissue bank where we freeze and store sperm and embryos for our patients. The bank is supervised by the lab director and is licensed and inspected by the State of Illinois. All tissue in the bank is stored frozen in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196°C in tanks that are computer controlled and monitored 24 hours a day with a state of the art alarm system. The embryologists are responsible for maintaining the bank and no other employee has access.


Scientists have been freezing sperm for decades and as a result, the technology for preserving and storing sperm is well defined. We also receive frozen sperm from sperm banks and other tissue banks that we store until the patient is ready to use. Sperm tolerate the freezing process well, although we do see some variation from patient to patient. Many patients freeze sperm for convenience (say a husband knows that he will be traveling on the day we will be performing an insemination on his wife), but for most patients there is a specific medical reason to freeze the sperm. For others, sperm numbers are low and we try to accumulate sperm in the freezer to allow the couple to do inseminations or IVF. We also will suggest sperm freezing for any man who may be anxious about producing a sample on the day of his partner’s insemination or egg retrieval.

Males who develop cancer and are scheduled for chemotherapy which may destroy sperm producing cells or are undergoing surgery to remove testes may consider storing several semen samples prior to treatment.

Males who are planning to undergo a vasectomy procedure may also want to store some of their semen samples for the future. This approach is a lot less expensive and less inconvenient than a surgical sperm retrieval directly from the testes after vasectomy is in place.

When sperm is thawed, it is typical for some of the sperm to die. Not all cells survive freezing and thawing, but since most sperm samples have many millions of live sperm, losing a small fraction of them has little consequence. However, it is important to be aware of the expected drop in the number of live sperm after freezing so that enough sperm can be frozen up front for the purpose of having one or more pregnancies.


Embryo freezing is a routine part of the IVF process.  Fertilized eggs called zygotes can be frozen as early as one day after an egg retrieval procedure, but it is more common to allow embryos to develop for a number of days before freezing them. This allows us to observe how well the embryos are developing so that we only end up with embryos in the freezer that we think have a good probability of establishing a pregnancy.

Freezing of excess good quality embryos after IVF allows for the transfer of fewer embryos in the stimulated IVF cycle and, therefore, ensures fewer multiple births.
This process provides patients with a "back-up" should the initial fresh embryo transfer not result in a pregnancy, at a much lower cost than starting IVF all over again and often with minimal medications. Frozen embryo transfers have allowed many of our patients to achieve more than one pregnancy from a single cycle of ovarian stimulation.

Embryos tolerate freezing well in most cases and pregnancy rates with frozen/thawed embryos are nearly as good as pregnancy rates for embryos that were transferred fresh without ever being frozen.


Eggs do not freeze well and new technology is being currently developed and perfected to improve the reproductive results using frozen/thawed eggs. As of now, the success rate is relatively low. We are awaiting the FDA approval of commercially available systems to freeze eggs.

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