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Scientists decry wasted opportunity as thousands of frozen eggs languish in IVF storage across Australia

Scientists decry wasted opportunity as thousands of frozen eggs languish in IVF storage across Australia

The vast majority of eggs frozen by prospective mothers go unused, causing headaches for IVF clinics and preventing potentially groundbreaking research.

Scientists are decrying a wasted opportunity as thousands of frozen eggs sit unused in storage instead of being used in potentially valuable medical research.

Hopeful mothers froze more than 3,000 eggs at Monash IVF clinics across Australia between 2012 and 2021, but the vast majority of them were never removed from storage, a study by Monash University researchers has found.

“The number of frozen eggs in storage continues to greatly outpace those that are used in treatment or relinquished from storage – either to be discarded or donated,” said lead researcher Molly Johnston.

“This has implications for fertility clinics who will need new strategies to avoid an unsustainable buildup of stored frozen eggs.”

Laws dictating how long frozen eggs are permitted to be kept in storage vary by state, but New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland impose a general limit of 10 years.

Despite the large amount of surplus eggs at fertility clinics around the country, very few end up being donated to research or other prospective parents.

Only 15% of patients who removed their eggs from storage elected to donate surplus eggs to others for reproductive purposes, while no eggs were donated to research projects because of legal restrictions.

Despite a survey finding more than half of patients would like their eggs to be donated to research if surplus to requirements, clinics in Australia are not permitted to store eggs prospectively for future research.

Dr Johnston said the restrictions were leading to a wasted opportunity for further advancement of fertility techniques.

“The prospect of permitting donation and storage for future research should be explored to augment the pool of available eggs for both current and future research,” she said.

There has been a dramatic uptick in egg freezing worldwide in recent years, as women increasingly turn to fertility preservation to address the threat of age-related fertility decline.

Patients are also increasingly seeking out fertility clinics because of a lack of a suitable partner or as an insurance policy for the future.

In October, Monash Health and the Royal Women’s hospital in Melbourne delivered the first baby born in a public fertility program in Australia.

The Royal Women’s hospital’s head of reproductive services, Kate Stern, called for more sperm and egg donors to help meet the growing demand for the service.

“When people realise that being a donor is associated with identity release but [there are] no responsibilities for the children, I think that’s pretty reassuring,” Assoc Prof Stern said in November.

“It’s a serious thing to do but it’s a really amazing gift and we really want Victorians to consider passing on anything they can.”

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