May 2, 2013 - World Record for Birth through Cryopreserved Sperm is Broken
As a world record is broken, hope comes alive.
Late in August, twin girls were born to a couple who used in vitro fertilization (IVF) to achieve pregnancy. On the surface, this may look like just another of the increasingly common success stories for the IVF industry. But this story has its own unique twist that makes it different from every other IVF pregnancy—the sperm used to fertilize the egg was frozen over 40 years ago, shattering the existing record of 28 years for a successful live birth through cryopreserved sperm.
In the beginning.
In 1971, a Japanese American war hero banked his sperm with a sperm bank where Russ Bierbaum, a young pioneer in reproductive tissue cryopreservation, was the acting laboratory technician. The war hero was the "first born" of a proud Japanese family whose culture dictates the family blood line be carried on through the first born son. Shortly after learning he and his wife would never have children of their own, he discovered none of his siblings were going to be able to preserve the family blood line either. That's when he started the journey to maintaining his heritage through a surrogate.
Having banked his sperm, he contacted a surrogate agency to find a mother for the child who would save his family's blood line. In the years that followed, the dream faded—surrogates were hard to find and the few who were willing were unable to achieve successful pregnancies. Yet his hope remained undeterred; as a successful American businessman, he continued to put money into a trust that would one day provide for the child he remained committed to fathering. Ultimately, Family Formation Law Offices of Michelsen and Cohen were able to connect him with a couple who was seeking pregnancy through donor sperm and was eager to become part of a much greater story. In late fall of 2011, a successful pregnancy was announced, followed nearly nine months later with the birth of twin girls.
According to Russ Bierbaum, a pioneer in the human reproductive tissue specialty, the length of time human reproductive tissue can be frozen and successfully used is still unknown. "Cryobiologists [scientists who study ultra-low temperature storage] have calculated that it could be several thousand years...the birth of these twins brings us one step closer to that truth." Bierbaum, an executive at ReproTech, Ltd.—the nation's leader in long-term cryostorage—has played a key role in this particular pregnancy from the beginning. As previously mentioned, Bierbaum worked as a lab technician back in 1971 at the sperm bank where the donor's sperm was first frozen. In the 40 years since, his organizations have handled much of the shipping and storage of the specimen.
"What is gratifying for us," reports Bierbaum, "is that the systems and processes we've built for over 50 years are now proven. The specimen used in this birth was collected and preserved over 40 years ago. Since then it has been transferred across the country four times using our shipping tanks and the procedures we designed as well as our storage facilities. In my mind, the science of long-term storage and its efficacy was never in doubt. However, maintaining the integrity and safety of the specimen through multiple shipments has never been tested to this extent."
ReproTech, Ltd., is a long-term cryostorage company with four locations throughout the United States. As the leading provider of long-term cryostorage services in the country, ReproTech had a vested interest in seeing the successful birth of these twins. "This is a huge seal of approval for the shipping processes, containers, and storage methods we've developed over the years," said Bierbaum. "Perhaps the biggest reservation we hear among the IVF docs is their concern about the shipping and handling of precious specimens. Even though we successfully ship thousands of specimens a year, these births prove that our systems have been effective all along. It's additional proof that we are the true leaders in the long-term storage and handling of reproductive tissue."
The practical application.
Although the birth of these twins from 40 year old sperm is an unusual story, it does have a more immediate and practical application for cancer patients. People like Bierbaum have forever been preaching to oncology professionals that long-term storage is a viable option for children and young men and women to preserve their fertility prior to cancer treatments that will affect their future fertility. "This proves that a young male can effectively store semen and confidently use it 20, 30, or 40 years later to start a family," said Bierbaum. "We're hoping this kind of news will convince oncology professionals to be more proactive about discussing future fertility with their patients and begin the necessary steps to assure that their patients have been informed."
The technical article related to this story, "Live births from frozen human semen stored for 40 years" was published in the April online issue of the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics. The final publication is available at link.springer.com.