in vitro fertilizationFrozen sperm works just as well as fresh sperm for in Vitro Fertilization (IVF), according to a recent study published in PLOS ONE. Researchers found that frozen sperm retrieved via testicular biopsy is just as effective as fresh sperm in leading to a successful pregnancy through IVF.

During IVF, a doctor removes an egg from a woman's ovaries then uses a man's sperm to fertilize the egg in a lab dish. The physician then places the fertilized egg in the woman's womb where it continues to grow. If a man has a low sperm count, or no sperm in his semen whatsoever, a doctor can perform a biopsy to retrieve sperm from the man's testicle. Fertility experts may use the fresh sperm right away or freeze it for future use.

In another procedure known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), a doctor injects sperm into the egg directly instead of adding the sperm to an egg in a lab dish. This procedure is effective in cases where the sperm is not hardy enough to penetrate the walls of the egg on its own. If a couple wishes to use fresh sperm for this procedure, they will have to synchronize events closely. For example, the man's biopsy may have to take place at the same clinic where the woman's eggs are retrieved.

Freezing sperm makes both IVF and ICSI more convenient but many worried that frozen sperm would lose fertility. Assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and author of the study, Kenan Omurtag, and his associates analyzed 15 years of data that followed 136 men who underwent ICSI - with 84 percent using frozen sperm and the rest using fresh. These researchers found that the frozen sperm performed as well as the fresh sperm.

The ability to freeze sperm increases options for infertile couples. No longer will men and women have to synchronize appointments or worry about the viability of frozen sperm.

Source: Omurtag K, Cooper A, Bullock A, Naughton C, Ratts V, et al. (2013) Sperm Recovery and IVF after Testicular Sperm Extraction (TESE): Effect of Male Diagnosis and Use of Off-Site Surgical Centers on Sperm Recovery and IVF. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69838. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069838