08 Jan Baby Born from 24-Year-Old Frozen Embryo Highlights Promise of ART
For many of us, the New Year is a time to pause a moment, to count our blessings and to look back at past achievements. Each year, advances in assisted reproductive technology make it safer, more reliable, more cost-effective and more accessible. Among the most transformative breakthroughs in the field was gaining the ability to cryopreserve eggs, sperm, and finally viable embryos, allowing individuals to preserve fertility despite injury, disease and age.
The recent report of a healthy baby born from an embryo frozen 24 years ago highlights the miraculous achievement and promise of assisted reproductive technology.
The baby girl in this story was born November 25, 2017, to a young East Tennessee couple. The couple, who had wanted a baby but had been unable to conceive, were matched with a donated embryo provided by the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), a non-profit organization that is the largest U.S. provider of embryo donation and embryo adoption services. The couple went through more than 500 donor profiles before selecting one that, unbeknownst to them, had been frozen since October 14, 1992—just one-and-a-half years after mom Tina Gibson was born. Baby Emma became the longest known frozen human embryo to result in a successful birth.
The dilemma of unused and, in some cases, abandoned embryos has reached critical mass in recent years, as fertility clinics and cryopreservation facilities cope with growing numbers of stored frozen embryos. Patients have the option to pay to store frozen embryos for possible future use or, once their family-creation goals are met, to donate them for stem cell research; to donate them to the clinic, other persons or embryo donation organizations for procreative purposes; or to discard them—a difficult decision for some. Very few clinics will accept embryos for re-donation, and direct donation to third parties is not as simple as it sounds because it is often difficult to find a match for these embryos. However, organizations such as NEDC offer patients another option: They exist to help facilitate a match for re-donation (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “embryo adoption”).
In addition to offering intended parents another answer to the question of what to do with their unused embryos, embryo donor organizations such as NEDC also offer a lower-cost alternative for infertile couples. For intended parents who use a donated embryo, the cost of becoming pregnant is generally much lower than undergoing in vitro fertilization—$6,000 to $10,000 compared to $15,000 and up, per round.
NEDC, established in 2003, is believed to be the largest U.S. provider of embryo donor and adoption services, resulting in 686 live births to date, according to the organization’s website. In reality, many of the thousands of donated embryos will never be matched with a recipient. But Emma’s story, the miracle of a successful pregnancy and birth, from an embryo frozen 24 years ago—when cryopreservation techniques were much less advanced than they are today—offers us both reason to celebrate and hope for the future.