sperm fertilising egg in human reproduction

UK plans to increase storage time limits for frozen sperm, eggs and embryos

Image credit: Dreamstime

The UK is planning to increase the storage time limits for frozen sperm, eggs and embryos to 55 years in order to give prospective parents a chance to start families later in life.

The new rules are a significant boost to the 10-year time limit currently imposed and will allow people to reassess whether they want to keep or discard their frozen cells on a 10-yearly basis.

The same rules will apply to everyone and storage limits will not be dictated by medical need.

The proposed changes are made possible by using the latest freezing methods. Research from the Royal College of Obstetricians (RCO) has found that frozen eggs can be stored indefinitely without deterioration, due to a new freezing technique called vitrification.

The changes also reflect the increasing success of using frozen embryos in routine in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it would be “inappropriate” for the limit to apply to all cases and there will be additional conditions around third party donors and posthumous use that will be consulted upon.

Dr Edward Morris, president at the RCO, said: “We very much welcome the UK Government’s move to increase the storage of eggs to a 10-year renewable period as it will give families and individuals more control over managing their fertility and more flexibility over when to start a family.

“Egg freezing allows women to have the chance to have children at a time that’s right for them. It is also for women going through therapies, such as chemotherapy, that may decrease their fertility but who still wish to have children.

“We know that women have better success rates when freezing their eggs at a younger age and this new legislation will enable them to freeze their eggs until the time is right for them.”

The proposals, which follow a public consultation launched last year, will need approval by Parliament.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The current storage arrangements can be severely restrictive for those making the important decision about when to start a family, and this new legislation will help turn off the ticking clock in the back of people’s minds.

“There are any number of reasons why someone may choose to preserve their fertility, and it is one of the most personal decisions any of us can make. Technological breakthroughs – including in egg freezing – have changed the equation in recent years and its only right that this progress puts more power into the hands of potential parents.”

Jason Kasarie, chair of the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists, said: “The proposed changes are a welcome improvement for the sector and most importantly our patients.

“The current storage limits have in some cases negatively impacted upon reproductive choice for couples by placing an artificial deadline, which would not be faced by those attempting to conceive naturally, on treatment.

“The proposed, fairer, storage limits will help to alleviate unnecessary stress for our patients and streamline the process of storage for assisted conception clinics.”

A study from 2019 found that human sperm retains it reproductive viability even when exposed to microgravity conditions in space which could pave the way for possible future space colonies.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles