Enquiries from women about egg freezing at some UK fertility clinics have jumped by as much as 50% this summer when compared to the same period last year. This has been attributed to the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic and women being concerned about their reduced chances of finding a partner in the lockdown coupled with their declining fertility after the age of 35.
Growth of egg freezing – up 240% in five years
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, there had been a sharp increase in interest in egg freezing over the past five years as a method of preserving a women’s fertility, both for medical purposes and for other reasons such as not being in a suitable relationship, widely known as “social egg freezing”. In 2018, there were 1933 egg freezing cycles, up from 569 in 2013, representing growth of 240%.
Spotlight on storage limits
This growth in egg freezing for fertility preservation has also brought into sharp focus storage limits which differ depending on whether the eggs are frozen for medical reasons or for social reasons. Women, who freeze their eggs for medical reasons, can store their eggs for a maximum of 55 years. However, women who opt for social egg freezing can only store their eggs for up to 10 years, after which they must either use or destroy the eggs (in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a temporary two-year extension has been granted). This difference in storage times between medical and social egg freezing has been strongly criticised and is currently under review by the UK Government.
The future of egg freezing for fertility preservation
Whilst egg freezing for fertility preservation is currently growing rapidly, technological developments could impact its future: ovarian tissue freezing and developing stem cells into eggs could present two alternatives in the years to come.
For further information
Fertility treatment 2018: trends and figures
Published 30th June 2020
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
Policy Briefing: Egg freezing in the UK
Published 30th September 2020
Nuffield Council on Bioethics
The Planer BT37 benchtop incubator has become a familiar sight in many fertility clinics around the world. Since its launch in 2009 the BT37, also known as the PINC by many, more than 3500 units have been sold and installed in over 70 countries. The reliable and easy to use incubator has become a workhorse incubator in many fertility clinics, with many clinics having numerous units to culture their embryos and gametes.
The new BT37 MkII benchtop incubator combines the highly accurate environmental control and reliability of the original unit with a host of new features designed to make the unit even easier to use and fit for the modern laboratory.
The BT37 MkII retains the precision control of homeostatic conditions to provide the consistent optimum environment required for embryo development. The 2 hour battery backup remains to ensure cells under culture are protected in the event of a power outage to the clinic or laboratory.
To ensure the BT37 MkII can continue to support clinics in the future the MkII has been developed with ease of use as the focus of the design enabling the lab to work more efficiently and easily.
The new features include:
All these new features are packed into a unit with the same small footprint ensuring the new BT37 MkII unit does not take up more valuable space in the IVF laboratory compared to the original.
Adrian Fuller, Managing Director at Planer Limited said, “The original BT37 has been the incubator of choice for many fertility clinics over the last ten years and the team at Planer hope that the new product shows our continued commitment to provide high quality and reliable equipment designed to care for patients’ valuable embryos and gametes throughout their development.”
CooperSurgical and its distributors worldwide will continue be sell and support the new BT37 MkII into the human ART market.
For further information
BT37 MkII benchtop incubator
Scientists investigating conditions such as miscarriage, preeclampsia and other complications that can occur during pregnancy will now be able to create early stems cells for study in the lab, which will further help their understanding of placental development.
Studying the role of the placenta during pregnancy has long been a challenge as obtaining vital tissue samples before birth was practically impossible. Now, scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, using findings from earlier Japanese studies, have found a way to guide human cells into becoming trophoblast stems cells, the precursor cells that give rise to the placenta. This technique will allow researchers to understand the very early stages of how the placenta develops and should give important insights into complications that occur during pregnancy.
The team in St Louis has been able to transform induced pluripotent stems (iPS) cells into trophoblast stem cells. Trophoblast cells develop into two specific cells types: one which allows the placental cells to implant into the uterine lining and the other which produces the hormones essential to maintaining the pregnancy.
Although there are already well established protocols, stretching back a decade, for turning an adult cell into an iPS cell, until now, scientists have not been able to create trophoblast stem cells in the lab. Unlike these precursor cells, iPS cells are in a state that exists after the embryo attaches to the uterus’ lining. As the development of the placenta begins before this stage, and these iPS cells have already lost their capacity to create placental cells, it has been important to find an accessible source of these trophoblast stem cells.
This breakthrough, which allows the creation of early stem cells, will help scientists further their understanding of the development of the human placenta and the origins of miscarriage, preeclampsia and other complications that occur during pregnancy.
For further information
Scientists generate early stem cells that form the human placenta
Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis
Integrated analysis of single-cell embryo data yields a unified transcriptome signature for the human pre-implantation epiblast
The Company of Biologists. Development - For advances in developmental biology and stem cells
This year, ESHRE will be a very different experience. Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting is going online and the 36th Annual Meeting will be completely virtual. As you can imagine, we at Planer, will greatly miss this annual opportunity to see everyone in person and to catch up with our customers, distributors and friends from around the world.
However, we are proud to support ESHRE’s virtual conference and have taken a booth in the exhibition area. As always, the ESHRE programme will be packed with presentations from leading experts in the reproductive field, speaking on a broad range of topics.
If you are planning to attend the conference, please don’t forget to visit our Planer stand to see our latest product range. The virtual exhibition goes live at 9.00am on Sunday 5th July.
Alternatively, if you are not registered to attend ESHRE, please click here to go straight to our special Planer ESHRE mini website.
Planer is pleased to announce that we are now the worldwide* distributor of the Cellbox live cell transport incubator to the reproductive medicine market. Cellbox is a robust incubator designed for the safe transport of oocytes, live cell culture, tissues and other cell-based samples by either ground or air transportation.
This self-sustaining incubator provides a controlled environment for the cells by maintaining temperature and, uniquely for a transport incubator, by regulating the CO2 levels during transportation, therefore ensuring that the cells arrive at their destination in the optimum condition. IATA compliant, the Cellbox transport incubator comes with an App that can provide a complete data logging history of the cells during their journey. There are two versions available – the Cellbox CD which uses CO2 cartridges and is suitable for land transport and the Cellbox CDI, which uses dry ice and is suitable for air transport.
“We are delighted that, in partnership with Cellbox Solutions GmbH, we can now market this exciting and unique product, through our well established global network of distributors, to ART customers” said Adrian Fuller, MD of Planer Ltd. “The Cellbox incubator will, without doubt, be a valuable addition to our range of existing high quality laboratory incubators, which includes the CT37stax and the BT37 benchtop incubators.”
*excluding USA and Japan
“How many different cell types are generated from a single egg cell?” is one of the most fundamental questions posed by biologists. Now researchers from EMBL Heidelberg and the University of Padua School of Medicine have published in the journal Cell, the first complete description of early embryo development, looking at every cell in the first seven cell divisions of an embryo. This breakthrough research was achieved by constructing a “virtual embryo” of the Phallusia mammillata – a type of marine organism known as a sea squirt, which is found in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Studying cellular diversification has always been challenging to scientists. Studies, to date, have focused on either researching a limited number of gene markers or by selecting a few cell lineages. This has meant that scientists have not have a good understanding of the gene expression programmes that command individual cells to acquire the cell fates necessary to develop an embryo. Despite recent progress in the field, a comprehensive representation of embryonic development, accounting for every single cell in space and time had not, until now, been achieved.
The construction a ‘virtual embryo’ of Phallusia mammillata, by the EMBL researchers has helped solve this problem. Phallusia mammillata has the advantage of being related to vertebrates and that each specimen has the same number of cells, making it easier for researchers to combine observations.
The EMBL ‘virtual embryo” described the gene expression and morphology of every cell of an embryo for its first seven cell divisions – from the single cell to the 64-cell stage. This is significant, because, by this point, the fates of the nerve cord, brain, germ cells, blood cell precursors and muscles have all been defined. Descriptions of the gene expression and spatial position of every cell are now possible. This portrayal was achieved through the use of high-resolution single-cell transcriptomics and light-sheet imaging. Click here for 4D digital visualisation of single cell expression patterns (digitalembryo.org). (The 4D visualisation of single-cell expression patterns above. Credit: Hanna Sladitschek/EMBL).
This important breakthrough in developmental genomics will give scientists the ability to track genome-wide changes of gene expression of every cell at each cell division in an embryo. Whilst this research was based on an organism with a small number of cells, the next step would be to extend the work to organisms with a greater number of cells, such as mammals.
For further information:-
Virtual Embryo Allows Single-cell Studies in Unprecedented Detail
MorphoSeq: Full Single-Cell Transcriptome Dynamics Up to Gastrulation in a Chordate
Authors Hanna L. Sladitschek, Ulla-Maj Fiuza, Dinko Pavlinic, Vladimir Benes,
Lars Hufnagel, Pierre A. Neveu
Biobanking has emerged as—and will continue to be—a key tool in the arsenal of public health agencies and healthcare providers scrambling to fight COVID-19, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Biopreservation and Biobanking asserted.
“As the number of cases continues to mount, as well as the unfortunate loss of life, biobanks will continue to work in the background to handle their roles in the response,” Jim Vaught, PhD, concluded in a commentary published by the journal online Thursday.
Vaught is a former chief of the Biobanking and Biospecimen Research Branch in the Cancer Diagnosis Program of the NIH’s National Cancer Institute. He serves on multiple advisory boards and consultant to a variety of international commercial and academic biobanks, and is a guest professor at Central South University in Changsha, China.
In his commentary, Vaught noted that issues related to patient sample collection, processing, and analyses have long been important factors in handling the response to emerging infectious diseases. In the case of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidelines for handling COVID-19 samples that have served as a model for other biobanks, including that of the University of California, San Francisco. The guidelines mandate the use of Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) rules for laboratories, including the use of protective equipment, use of Class II Biological Safety Cabinets, and proper disinfection routines.
Last month, the NIH created its COVID-19 Scientific Interest Group, where interested parties can join in an online discussion and exchange information about research and resources. “At this time, we can expect that this pandemic will continue to be our most critical international concern for months to come, from a public health perspective, as well as from the resulting economic impact. As the number of cases continues to mount, as well as the unfortunate loss of life, biobanks will continue to work in the background to handle their roles in the response,” Vaught observed.
He also recalled the important role biobanking played in past epidemics, including the 2014–2016 Ebola outbreak in Africa, and the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic, where tissue samples were used to determine that the origin of the virus was related to strains that commonly infected pigs and humans, and not of avian origin as had been previously thought.
Following the Ebola outbreak, Vaught noted, the Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium (GET) began organizing conferences focused on biobanking, and began working with international collaborators, articulating its goal of “providing strategic recommendations and establishing infrastructure and research capacity to respond to highly infectious emerging pathogens.”
The commentary, “Biobanking During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” is available on the journal’s website free until 30th June 2020.
Biopreservation and Biobanking is a bimonthly journal designed to provide comprehensive peer-reviewed coverage of biospecimen procurement, processing, preservation and banking, including ethical, legal, and societal considerations. The journal is a publication of GEN publisher Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., which has made articles related to COVID-19 and previous outbreaks such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) freely available.
In response to the global Coronavirus pandemic, a number of Societies involved in reproductive medicine, have issued statements on patient management and their clinical recommendations. Here, we focus on the latest COVID-19 updates from ASRM, ESHRE and BFS to provide an overview of current thinking. These organisations urge practitioners to stay up-to-date and to comply with their national public health recommendations with a particular duty to avoid any additional stress to healthcare systems, which in many places are already severely overloaded.
American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
Patient Management and Clinical Recommendations During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic.
17th March 2020
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, ASRM recommendations’ include:-
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE)
Conronavirus COVID-19: ESHRE statement on pregnancy and conception
19th March 2020
Due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, ESHRE recommends that all fertility patients considering or planning treatment, even if they do not meet the diagnostic criteria for Covid-19 infection, should avoid becoming pregnant. For those patients already having treatment, ESHRE suggests considering deferred pregnancy with oocyte or embryo freezing for later embryo transfer.
British Fertility Society (BFS)
The BFS issued their original guidance on 18th March, which should now be read alongside the open letter they issued on 23rd March.
An open letter to members of the British Fertility Society and the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists and Persons Responsible for UK Licenced Fertility Services.
23rd March 2020
This letter outlines the rapidly changing situation and reaffirms their position on fertility treatments for the foreseeable future:-
“Given the daily escalation of restrictions on public movement and the increasing pressure on NHS facilities particularly in London and North West England, coupled with predictions that the crisis will continue to intensify for at least the next twelve weeks, the BFS and ARCS stand by their recommendations that centres in the UK work to cease treatments. We are however committed to review our guidance as the situation progresses, with reference to national advice and new evidence as it emerges and hope to work with colleagues over coming weeks and months to consider how and when best to resume normal activities.”
Read letter in full.
Guidance for the care of fertility patients during the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic
NB since issuing this guidance, the BFS have published the open letter (see above), which should be read alongside this original guidance published on 18th March