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Friday, 11 October, 2002, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
Q&A: Frozen egg IVF

The first British woman to become pregnant using her own frozen eggs has given birth to a healthy baby girl.

BBC News Online examines how this procedure works.

What is frozen egg IVF?

This is a relatively new treatment to enable women to have children.

It allows eggs to be removed from a woman and to be frozen and stored for use at a later date.

When a woman decides to become pregnant the eggs are thawed and fertilised using sperm from a man.

The fertilised egg is then placed back inside the woman in the hope that it will lead to a successful pregnancy and birth.

However, the thawing process is difficult and many of the eggs are unsuitable for use.

How does it differ to conventional IVF techniques?

This treatment is different from other IVF techniques because the eggs are frozen and stored.

With conventional techniques, eggs are removed from a woman, fertilised and transferred into the womb within a couple of days.

The freeze/thaw procedure allows the eggs to be stored almost indefinitely for use at a later date.

It can also help people who may have morale objections to the conventional treatment.

Usually several embryos are created and those that turn out not to be needed are discarded.

With this technique, only a few eggs are taken and frozen. They are defrosted and fertilised one at a time until there is a successful pregnancy so embryos are not wasted.

Who stands to benefit?

The procedure is of particular benefit to women who are diagnosed with cancer or other illnesses which prevent them from becoming pregnant in the future.

However, it could also be used by younger women who wish to put their fertility literally on 'ice'.

They could have eggs frozen while they are in their 20s and decide to use them when they are older and want to get pregnant.

This could enable them to avoid the increased risk of miscarriage or birth defects they would otherwise face.

It is estimated that 100 British women have already had their eggs frozen. There was never any restriction on freezing eggs. However, until January 2000 the eggs were not allowed to be thawed.

Why is it in the news?

This is the first time a British woman has given birth to a baby after having her own eggs frozen, fertilised and transferred into her womb.

Earlier this year, another British woman also gave birth after undergoing the procedure. However, the egg used in that case was from another donor.

The procedure has been carried more frequently outside the UK. It is estimated that more than 30 women in the United States have given birth after undergoing this treatment.

Is it controversial?

Yes. The procedure was banned in the UK until January 2000. This was largely because it was new and there was little evidence that it worked.

However, successful treatments in other parts of the world led to this ban being lifted.

The procedure is also controversial because it could enable women to put off getting pregnant until later in life, perhaps after concentrating on their careers.

There is no law to prevent this happening. However it would be expensive to store eggs for a number of years.

There are also concerns that the freezing process could mean babies have problems, which may not be seen until they grow up.

See also:

11 Oct 02 | Health
25 Jan 00 | Health
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