Molly Everette Gibson is just over a month old, but she set a record after being born from an embryo that froze nearly 28 years ago. Until his birth, that record was held by his sister, Emma, whose embryo had been frozen 24 years ago.
Molly and Emma’s mother, Tina, was born in April 1991, 18 months before the first embryo was frozen. “As far as we’re concerned, Molly is our little miracle,” Tina assured New York Post.
Tina and her husband Benjamin first turned to the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) after trying to have a child for five years. Benjamin has cystic fibrosis, which is a common cause of infertility. Other factors that can cause it are:
- Damage, blockage, or removal of the fallopian tubes.
- Advanced age of the woman.
- Endometriosis (when cells from the lining of the womb (uterus) grow in other areas of the body).
- Uterine fibroids (benign tumors).
- Disorders of ovulation or semen production.
- Genetic disorders
“It is very gratifying for me to see an embryo that was frozen years ago resulting in the birth of a lovely baby,” he told NYP Dr. Carol Sommerfelt, director of the NEDC laboratory.
Sommerfelt, who supervised the thawing process, assured that the embryos can be fine indefinitely “as long as they are properly kept in the liquid nitrogen storage tank at minus 396 degrees.”
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According to the expert, with the birth of Molly “we know that they can survive at least 27 and a half years”, although they can probably do so for longer.
What is in vitro fertilization?
As explained by the US National Library of Medicine, these are the basic steps for in vitro fertilization:
This stage is also known as superovulation and consists of administering fertility drugs to the woman with the aim of increasing the production of eggs. Instead of one per month, which is usually the norm, it seeks to produce several.
She also undergoes regular transvaginal ultrasounds to examine her ovaries and blood tests to check hormone levels.
Here a follicular aspiration (minor surgery) is performed to remove the eggs from the woman’s body. Medications are given so that you do not feel pain and, guided by ultrasound images, the professional inserts a needle through the vagina that is connected to a suction device to extract the eggs and fluid out of the follicle.
It is normal that after this treatment the woman experiences colic that disappears after a day. In case eggs cannot be produced, other donated ones can be used.
In some cases, a pelvic laparoscopy can be used to remove the eggs, although this happens rarely.
Insemination and fertilization
Insemination consists of placing the sperm next to the best quality egg. These are stored in an environmentally controlled chamber, and after a few hours, the sperm fertilizes the egg.
If the probability of fertilization is estimated to be low, the sperm can be injected directly into the egg, which is called intracytoplasmic sperm injection.
The probability of success of in vitro fertilization usually varies between 30 and 40%. | Photo: Getty Images.
Once it divides, the fertilized egg develops into an embryo. It will be monitored regularly to ensure proper growth, in about 5 days the embryo will already have several cells that are actively dividing.
The embryos are placed inside the woman’s uterus 3 to 5 days after the egg is removed and fertilized. To do this, the doctor inserts a thin tube (catheter) that contains the embryos into the vagina through the cervix and into the uterus.
Pregnancy occurs when the embryo sticks (implants) into the lining of the uterus and begins to grow there.
More than one embryo can be placed into the vagina at the same time, which can lead to twins, triplets, or more. The exact number of embryos transferred depends on many factors, especially the woman’s ovarian reserve.
Those embryos that are not used can be frozen (like Molly’s case) and implanted or donated at a later date.
Are there risks with in vitro fertilization?
It is normally a safe treatment, although specialists point out that in vitro fertilization has some risks:
- Spontaneous abortions.
- Ectopic pregnancyThis means that the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube, so the pregnancy cannot be continued.
- Stress: Different studies show how exhausting this process can be physically, emotionally and financially for many people.
- Multiple birth: when more than one embryo is implanted.
- Preterm delivery and low birth weight.
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome: swelling and pain of the ovaries.
How long do frozen embryos last?
To date, it is unknown whether frozen embryos have a shelf life. Regarding this, Dr. Brian Levine, director of the Manhattan Fertility Clinic, told NYP that those frozen in the ’80s and’ 90s “have the potential for degradation over time.”
This is because the technique used at the time was “slow freezing” and it is believed that it could “create vulnerabilities”, although there is no solid evidence to show that it causes defects or disabilities.
The expert said that his concern is about the fragility in the in vitro fertilization environment during those decades, and that it is likely that the embryos of the new millennium will last and work better.
That’s because vitrification, also known as flash freezing, and the ability to test embryos on a viability scale are currently in use.
For now, Ben and Tina assured that they plan to expand their family, although for that they will probably resort to conventional adoption.