The removal of anonymity in 2005 led to a reduction in the already-insufficient number of altruistic egg donors coming forward in the UK. This, combined with a strong trend towards parenthood at an older age, leads hundreds of British women to go abroad each year for treatment with donor eggs - and the numbers are rising.
It was hoped that Egg-sharing might redress the balance but this has not proved to be the case, partly because of the dependence on a single IVF cycle to ensure enough eggs for two participants.
A new programme from The London Bridge Fertility, Gynaecology and Genetics Centre (Bridge) develops the Egg Sharing concept further to encourage more UK egg donors, giving new options and choices for future life, careers, relationships and children to donors and recipients alike.
Bridge's new Egg-sharing Programme enables healthy young women who are willing to share their eggs to do so by freezing them for future use in preference to immediate IVF treatment which, until now, has been the only option.
'Freeze and Share' results from the success of Bridge's Egg Freezing Programme which is based on the new vitrification technique and has been operating successfully since October 2007.
The 'Freeze and Share' programme, which provides egg freezing and five years storage to suitable donors, is accepting enquiries immediately and becomes fully operational on 1st October. Bridge believes that it will help to address the shortage of UK donor eggs which requires hundreds of British women to go overseas for fertility treatment every year.
Egg freezing is now a serious consideration for many women up to the mid-thirties who, in their current lifestyle, are not yet ready for motherhood for various reasons. It is equally apparent that a proportion of would-be participants find difficulty in meeting the costs of £4-5,000 (depending on drug dosage). 'Freeze and Share' overcomes this issue and provides other women with the precious opportunity of motherhood.
Candidate sharers will be treated before the dramatic decline in fertility which affects every woman - normally in their mid-thirties. There will, of necessity, be some qualifying medical criteria and counselling is another essential part of the decision process.
Women will qualify on the basis of their likely response to relatively low doses of fertility drugs and will undergo three treatment cycles over a 12 month period, with constant monitoring during and between cycles. Additional support will be provided by Bridge's specialist Egg Donation Team which was formed five years ago and which has guided hundreds of patients through egg donation and sharing in the UK and abroad.
'Freeze and Share' will be guided by a series of explicit protocols. Interested participants will register using a specially-developed form which will establish their suitability for a comprehensive range of screening tests. Women proceeding to the tests and counselling sessions may still not be admitted to the programme if there is any definable risk to their health and future fertility, or if their test results exclude them from fulfilling the necessary criteria.
A registration fee of £200 will be charged. This will be refunded to women who become donors. Those who cannot be treated will receive an Ovarian Reserve Assessment and Reproductive Health report - the results of which are worth substantially more than the registration fee.
Donors will proceed to treatment with the knowledge that the rules governing the sharing and freezing of eggs are clear and fair.
Bridge will inspect and grade every egg collected and will only freeze mature eggs of suitable quality. Although the Cryotop vitrification method is relatively new in the UK, it has been proven in over 100,000 procedures in 12 countries and 95% survival rates and 96% fertilisation rates (using ICSI) are now being reported. Once selected, the eggs are equally divided between donor and recipient, with the benefit of an odd number of eggs going to the donor. All divisions follow the procedures established in Bridge's existing HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority)-approved Egg Sharing Programme.
From a donor's perspective, the key requirement is to be fit, healthy and under 35. Donors must also have thought through the issues carefully and be clear in their own mind that this is something they want to do. Bridge expects a mix of donors who, for medical, social and career-linked reasons, will prefer to freeze their eggs rather than take the existing Egg Sharing option of immediate IVF treatment.