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Social Freezing

What is social freezing?

Social freezing provides women with the opportunity to freeze some of their egg cells while they’re still young so that they can be used later in life. Women who partake in social freezing can take steps in their careers or personal life without having to worry about their biological clock.

More and more women are taking fate into their own hands when it comes to being a mother. Modern reproductive medicine provides them with the means to do so: from intrauterine insemination to IVF, there is a wide range of options that can help women successfully conceive, regardless of age. Social freezing is a popular topic of debate; social freezing, the freezing of egg cells at a young age, so that they can later be thawed and used for assisted reproduction at a time that best suits the patient’s needs.

This method allows women the authority to determine the most optimal time for conception themselves; maybe they haven’t found the right partner yet or they’re trying to kickstart their career. When the right time finally comes around, they can choose to become a mother without all the hassle.

The biological egg clock is always ticking. “In Austria, the age at which couples start having children has shifted considerably,” Prof. Dr. Wilfried Feichtinger, specialist in reproductive medicine and founder of the Wunschbaby Institute WIF in Vienna, explains. The statistics prove it: the desire to start having children has shifted dramatically to later in life over the last 30 years. The problem with starting a family at an older age is well known—the older a woman gets, the lower the chances she has at having a baby. “The deteriorating quality and quantity of female oocytes are also to blame,” Prof. Dr. Wilfried Feichtinger says.

Not only does the chance of getting pregnant decrease with age—but the risk of having children with genetic defects also increases. “In a 30-year old female, every second or third egg cell is chromosomally intact. However, in a 40-year-old woman, this number decreases to every fifth or sixth egg cell being chromosomally stable,” Prof. Dr. Wilfried Feichtinger explains.

What could be more obvious than storing your oocytes? “Social freezing is a widespread technique to stop the biological clock. It is especially popular in the USA, and both Japan and Great Britain have been practicing these preventative measures for years,” says Priv.-Doz. DDr. Michael Feichtinger, medical director of the Wunschbaby Institute Feichtinger in Vienna.

“I find it particularly important to raise awareness in the general population, as well amongst my medical colleagues, that we as a modern fertility clinic are no longer solely responsible for assisting patients with the fulfillment of their dreams to have children in the present—we also educate our patients about their fertility and accompany them on their future route to parenthood,” emphasizes Dr. Nazira Pitsinis, Medical Director of the Wunschbaby Institute Feichtinger in Baden.

Particularly in patients suffering from cancer, the topic of fertility maintenance in young men and women is often neglected. This is usually due to the rash begin of oncological therapy shortly after diagnosis.

“Through cooperation with oncological departments and further training with medical colleagues, we want to offer our companionship in these difficult situations,” Pitsinis says. In certain specific medical indications, such as early-onset ovarian failure (POF = primary ovarian failure), endometriosis, and cancer, it is possible to vitrify oocytes. Precautionary freezing of egg cells should also be considered in other, far more frequent diseases, such as endometriosis, PCOS, thyroid disease, and autoimmune diseases, especially in patients who want to postpone having children beyond the age of 35. “In general, we recommend a consultation for anyone considering postponing having children so that we can avoid unpleasant surprises and exclude other additional risk factors that could lead later to infertility,” Priv.-Doz. DDr. Michael Feichtinger advises.

The Wunschbaby Institute Feichtinger in Vienna offers cryopreservation—cell freezing in liquid nitrogen—of fertilized embryos, sperm, and testicular tissue.

Shock Freezing

The retrieval of egg sells for social freezing should take place as early as possible. “The younger the egg cells, the better,” Priv.-Doz. DDr. Michael Feichtinger advises. In the so called verification procedure, 10-15 egg cells are first removed and then frozen using a special technique that solidifies the egg cells within a fraction of a second at -197 degrees Celsius. This technique is referred to as “shock freezing”. Recent scientific research has shown that freezing does not reduce the quality of the egg cells. “The frozen and then thawed egg cell of a young woman is just as good as a fresh one,” Priv.-Doz. DDr. Michael Feichtinger clarifies.

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