Healthy British women can now to choose to freeze their eggs, giving them the opportunity to delay motherhood without risking pregnancy complications, according to the Sunday Times. The new service, aimed at career women and those waiting for the right partner, will be launched nationwide next month by two of the UK's leading fertility clinics: The Bridge Centre and Care Fertility.
Previously, due to low success rates, egg freezing was considered a last resort and only offered to cancer patients left infertile by chemotherapy. However the two clinics believe that new technology, developed by Japanese scientists, can produce high enough success rates for egg freezing to be offered to healthy women as well.
Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, medical director of the Bridge Centre, believes the new service will offer women more choice: 'The contraceptive pill gave women more choice about when they started their families. Egg freezing now gives women the chance to delay having children until the time that is right for them', he told the Sunday Times.
However Dr Allan Pacey, Secretary of the British Fertility Society, urges caution over concerns that the new technique - known as vitrification - is still in its early stages. 'It's not worked terribly well historically and whilst vitrification is proving in laboratory studies to be reasonably good, meaning when the eggs are thawed that they're viable, there are too few studies, I think, yet to say whether or not this will actually translate into big success rates for women', he told BBC News 24.
It has always proved difficult to freeze and thaw a human egg due to its high water content and the subsequent formation of ice crystals which cause damage to it. The new technique overcomes these problems by removing water from the eggs and then express freezing them with liquid nitrogen. Initial studies show that 90-95 per cent of eggs can survive the freezing process and that pregnancy rates are similar those using fresh eggs.
Thirty-seven-year-old local government officer Miss Tessa Darley is one of the first women in the UK to have used the new egg freezing service. 'I can devote time to my career, take time finding Mr Right and know that even if I am menopausal I can still have my own baby', she told the Daily Mail.
Although UK clinics rarely offer fertility treatment to women over 50, critics have voiced concerns that the new service could may encourage postmenopausal women to seek IVF treatment abroad in countries with more liberal age restrictions.