Scientists in the UK have reported the birth of a healthy baby boy born to a father whose sperm was frozen for 21 years. The man had undergone treatment for testicular cancer at the age of 17, which made him sterile. The researchers, from St Mary's Hospital and Christie Hospital, both in Manchester, published the case study in June issue of the fertility journal Human Reproduction.
The man, now 42, had a sample of his sperm frozen before his cancer treatment started. At the time, in 1979 - only a year after the first IVF) success - sperm storage was still in the early stages of development. At the age of 30 he was told he was free from cancer. In 1995, he and his partner considered starting a family, and went back to the clinic where his sperm was stored. At first, the clinic tried insemination of the woman with her partner's sperm but, when this proved unsuccessful, the couple were accepted onto the waiting list for IVF. They were accepted for treatment three years later, in 1998, and, 21 years after it had been frozen, his thawed sperm was used to fertilise his wife's eggs using ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection), an IVF method where a single sperm is injected into the egg. Following the fourth cycle of the treatment, transfer of two of the embryos created resulted in the birth of the boy in 2002.
Dr Elizabeth Pease, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine to St. Mary's Hospital, Manchester, and a member of the research team, said: 'We believe this is the longest period of sperm cryopreservation resulting in a live birth reported in the scientific literature'. Team leader Greg Horne, a senior embryologist at the hospital, said that the case was important as it 'provides evidence that long-term freezing can successfully preserve sperm quality and fertility'. He added that it was important to know this 'because semen stored by young cancer patients is taken at a time of great emotional stress when future fertility is unlikely to be an immediate priority'.
The couple, who wish to remain anonymous, said that their case should be reported to give hope to other young cancer patients facing infertility caused by their treatment. But they said they were also anxious for people to know that had the sperm freezing and IVF procedures not been available on the National Health Service, they would not have had the opportunity to become parents. Earlier this year, Health Secretary John Reid said that all infertile couples, subject to certain criteria, and where the woman was aged between 23 and 39, would only be offered one free cycle of IVF on the NHS. Dr Pease said: 'If we had applied John Reid's new rules, this couple wouldn't have had a child'.
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