By Kimberly Peterson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Infertility patients in Tucson have the science of cryopreservation working in their favor, thanks to a sperm and egg bank at University Medical Center.
Cryopreservation is the procedure of freezing sperm or fertilized eggs in liquid nitrogen for future reproductive use.
In the past decade, the technology behind this procedure has grown to the point where cryo banks can be found in nearly every state, said David Karabinus, UMC research professor in obstetrics and gynecology.
Karabinus heads the sperm bank, which functions to analyze, prepare and preserve sperm for up to five years by freezing in liquid nitrogen at 320 degrees below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
The bank also has an anonymous donor program, where sperm donors are paid $50 to provide samples for individuals who do not have semen of their own, Karabinus said.
The bank freezes up to 10 doses per donor, with each dose containing about 40 million sperm.
About 95 percent of the donors are University of Arizona students, Karabinus said.
Men from the ages of 18 to 25 produce the best semen quality, Karabinus said. Semen quality is measured by sperm concentration, motility, shape, pH, and the presence of white blood cells.
The specimens can be used to aid couples with a sterile male, a male carrying a genetic disease or single women.
The donors are carefully screened under questionnaires and interviews, Karabinus said. They must undergo a comprehensive medical history and a checkup for sexually-transmitted and some genetic diseases like Tay-Sachs and sickle-cell anemia.
The lab does not test intelligence, but notes physical characteristics and general ethnic background, Karabinus said.
Although sperm banks can be a delicate subject, Karabinus said he has not received much of a negative reaction to his work.
"We've never been picketed," he said. "Some people are sensitive, but college campuses tend to be liberal and more accepting of it."
Also at UMC is an "oocyte," or "egg" bank. The facility provides eggs to women who have lost the function of their ovaries, said Timothy Gelety, a UMC assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology.
But the oocyte bank differs from the sperm bank in that it can only freeze fertilized eggs, Gelety said.
“Unfertilized oocyte preservation is experimental,” he said. “There are problems with damage to chromosomal material.”
The egg is fertilized by “in-vitro fertilization,” meaning outside the body in a test tube. The embryo can then be frozen in liquid nitrogen indefinitely, Gelety said.
There are currently about 24 active donors in the anonymous oocyte donor program, Gelety said. He would not say how much the donors were paid.
Both oocyte donor and recipient must go through a counseling program where they learn about the psychological ramifications of their decision, Gelety said.
The program is for people who cannot have a child any other way, thus, Gelety said, he feels there is not an ethical conflict in freezing embryos.
“The embryos that are frozen are treated with the same respect as all embryos are,” he said.
Still, others say the work of the banks could have political and social connotations.
“I can’t comment on whether it’s right or wrong, but I think that method could be used to skirt a woman’s right to her own body,” said James Aiken, a graphic arts sophomore.
Cryopreservation has received approval from Arizona Right to Life, a pro-life organization.
“We think it’s a viable alternative as long as no one is killed in the process,” said Shane Wikfors, administration director of Arizona Right to Life.
“In the case of any situation where conception occurs and you have a new expression of a human being, and that human being is destroyed, we oppose that,” Wikfors said. Read Next Article