How long can frozen embryos be stored?

Our clients often ask, how long can I store my embryos? We say, indefinitely. And we continue to see healthy babies born from embryos that have been in storage for longer and longer! There is no maximum number of years an embryo can stay in storage and still be viable. Meaning that someone can store their embryos as long as they wish.

The first successful birth from a frozen embryo was in 1978 and since then there have been many successful births from frozen embryos. Beginning in the 1980s, embryo freezing has become a common practice among clinicians. Currently, the longest recorded frozen embryo resulting in a successful birth happened in 2020 when a donated embryo that had been frozen for 27 years produced a healthy baby girl, named Molly. The previous record was set by her sister, Emma, who was born from an embryo that had been in storage for 24 years.

Baby Born From 27-Year-Old Embryo

Baby born from 27-year-old embryo believed to have broken record set by her big sister

12/01/2020/ Source: CNN – Though Molly Gibson is just over one month old, she could’ve been born at any point in the last 27 years.

Her embryo was frozen in October 1992 and stayed frozen until earlier this year in February, when Tina and Ben Gibson of Tennessee adopted her embryo. Tina gave birth to Molly in late October — nearly 27 years after her embryo was first frozen.

Molly’s birth is believed to have set a new record — one previously held by her older sister, Emma — for the longest-frozen embryo known to have to resulted in a birth. Not that records matter to the Gibsons.

“With Emma, we were just so smitten to have a baby,” Tina Gibson told CNN on Tuesday. “With Molly, we’re the same way. It’s just kind of funny — here we go again with another world record.”

Gibson became pregnant with both Emma and Molly with the help of the National Embryo Donation Center, a faith-based nonprofit in Knoxville that stores frozen embryos in vitro fertilization patients have decided not to use. Families can adopt those unused embryos, which are then transferred to an adoptive parent’s uterus.

Emma, the Gibsons’ older daughter, was born in November 2017 and set the previous record for the longest-frozen embryo known to have resulted in a birth, according to the center. Hers was frozen for 24 years.

Using older embryos

Before Emma and then Molly set records, little was known about the viability of older embryos. And when she found out Emma’s embryo had been frozen for so long, Gibson worried the age would lessen her chances of becoming pregnant.

But Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, the center’s president and medical director, assured her that age likely wouldn’t affect the outcome. He said in a release both Emma and Molly’s births are proof that embryos shouldn’t be discarded because they’re “old.”

“This definitely reflects on the technology used all those years ago and its ability to preserve the embryos for future use under an indefinite time frame,” said Carol Sommerfelt, the center’s lab director and embryologist, in a release.

About 75% of all donated embryos survive the thawing and transfer process, and between 25 to 30% of all implants are successful, Sommerfelt told CNN in 2017 when Emma was born.

Questions still remain about the difference age makes in an embryo’s successful birth, but the center says that the Gibson girls’ births are both positive examples of using older embryos.

Molly’s birth was a bright spot during the pandemic

The second embryo the Gibsons adopted wasn’t thawed and transferred to Gibson’s uterus until February. Gibson said she found out she was pregnant with Molly just days before Covid-19 was declared a pandemic.

“She’s definitely been a little spark of joy for 2020,” she said.

Born at the end of October at 6 pounds, 13 ounces, Molly lit up her family’s world. And though she and her sister are medical marvels, Gibson said the thing that still surprises her the most is the fact that they’re both hers.

“Every single day, my husband and I talk about it,” she said. “We’re always like, ‘Can you believe we have not one little girl, but two little girls? Can you believe we’re parents to multiple children?'”

Gibson told CNN in 2017, upon Emma’s birth, that she and her husband had struggled with infertility. The couple had their hearts set on traditional adoption, but after her parents suggested checking out embryo adoption, their path changed in unexpected ways.

“You would think that throughout pregnancy that I would just be used to it, but I’m still completely blown away that they are ours,” she said.

A Study on Patient Contact Protocol

The disposition of embryos and continued contact with the patient is a significant issue within the embryo storage community. Recently a study was published in the Journal of Fertilization: In Vitro, IVF Worldwide, Reproductive Medicine, Genetics & Stem Cell Biology, which focused on one program’s experience with contacting patients about embryos in storage. The goal of the study was to evaluate the efficacy of one program’s disposition protocol. This policy begins at the initiation of the first cycle and includes verbal and written consent with the knowledge that they will be contacted annually and are to make a decision within 30 days of receiving the letter.

The study, which focused on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H) ART program, revealed that even with clear guidance and informed consent of patients, following up with them in regards to the disposition of their frozen embryos was a challenge. Getting in contact with patients proved difficult in even the first year of storage. For 26.7% of patients, more than one letter was required to obtain a response from patients and that percentage grew the longer the embryos were in storage. Of those groups, nearly 14% of patients with embryos at 1 year post freeze never made final disposition decisions, resulting in considerable time and effort on the part of the clinic staff.

For patients dealing with these tough decisions, ReproTech is here to help. We are equipped to handle the long-term storage of embryos in a secure facility. At ReproTech, storage is all we do, and we’ve been the industry leader in long-term reproductive tissue storage for 25 years. We offer safe, cost effective long-term storage so patients can take the time to make the right decision for themselves.

To read the study, click here.