The word “Bank” implies any supply, store, or reserve for future use. Semen Banking (alternative terms used are Semen cryopreservation and semen freezing), denotes the storage for future use of semen (more specifically sperm), by cryopreservation. This sperm can be stored indefinitely and used as and when required. Human semen samples have been successfully stored for as long as 20 years.
There are various reasons why sperm may need to be stored:
The male partner’s / husband’s sperm
Male partner deciding to undergo a vasectomy, but still wanting to have the option of having children, if desired at a later date.
Male suffering from cancers needing chemotherapy or radiation therapy (which can damage the sperm), but desiring to preserve fertility, can preserve his semen for use at a later date.
Couple desiring to have the assisted reproductive treatment at a different place or time, from that where the husband is available, e.g. when the husband travels a lot and is away from home and his wife most days of the month. This way his availability at the time of ovulation is not assured and the couple can then store the semen for use by assisted reproductive technology, to achieve conception.
In males who have suffered a paralytic attack, semen is collected by electro ejaculation for cryopreservation.
In couples undergoing In Vitro Fertilisation (Test Tube Baby) treatment, semen is frozen for backup use, prior to the date of the actual fertilsation in the IVF laboratory, in case the male partner is unable to provide a fresh sample on the day (this can happen due to stress or other contributory factors esp. in cases of male infertility)
A sperm donor is a male who donates his sperm for the purpose of use via Assisted Reproductive technologies, by a needy couple. Such a donor has to fulfill the criteria and specifications as per the current guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Amongst these guidelines it is stated that the age of the donor must not be below 21 or above 45 years with his semen analysis found to be normal. Other factors like infections and hereditary conditions are also strictly tested for. Current guidelines recommend that sperm be quarantined for at least six months before being released for use, which is done after the donor is rechecked and is negative for all the major infections. Donor and recipient identities are kept anonymous.
Artificial donor insemination is performed exclusively with frozen sperm.
The use of third party (i.e. donor) sperms is indicated in cases where the male partner in the couple is unable to provide sperm by any medically assisted methods, and also if he is at a risk of transmitting a genetic condition to his offspring via his genes. Moreover, donor sperm insemination is opted for by single women who desire a pregnancy but lack a male partner.
Technique of Freezing / cryopreservation
Pre-cryopreservation counseling is done, in which sexual abstinence of two to three days is suggested between ejaculates. The semen sample procured in a sterile container is first analyzed to determine the sperm count and also for the movement of the sperm. Depending on these factors as well as the volume or amount of the sample provided, the semen sample is placed in individual plastic vials or 0.5 ml sterile straws, immediately sealed, and the freezing process done by either method of slow-freezing or Vitrification. The straws / vials all labeled identically are then placed in a metal storage canister i.e. liquid nitrogen vapor storage tanks and maintained frozen at -196°C / -320°F.
The number of straws / vials is dependent upon the sperm count, sperm movement, and volume of the ejaculate.
The process of freezing and preserving the samples is known as Cryopreservation. A small portion of the specimen is drawn into a separate straw for a post-thaw analysis, which is performed the following day to assess the specimen’s cryosurvival rate.
There does not appear to be any increased risk of birth defects using frozen semen. Recent studies indicate that the overall success rate at achieving conception following the use of cryopreserved semen is from 40%-50%.
Awareness and appropriate application of the use of Semen Banking can prove to avoid many a disappointment and unhappiness occurring in the lives of infertile or subfertile couples