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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ova bank comes to India

Women struggling with reproductive problems or keen on postponing motherhood can now get their eggs frozen.

MUMBAI: The egg business has landed. Women struggling with reproductive problems or those keen on postponing motherhood for a later date can now get their eggs frozen and utilise it when they wish.

Addressing the growing problems of infertility, a team of specialists - Dr Hrishikesh Pai, Dr Rishma Pai and Dr Nandita Palshetkar - have recently set up the country’s first ova bank at the Bandra-based Lilavati Hospital. In a short span the concept has elicited a strong response from women, admit the team.

The ova bank is expected to out-perform the sperm banks, pointed out infertility experts. Women with premature ovarian failure, ineffective ovaries post ovarian surgery, post chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer, premature menopause, repeated failures with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and menopausal patients who have lost a child and want another can avail of the bank’s facilities.

Speaking to DNA, Dr Pai indicated that this technology will be a success. “It is a secondary option for women and the recovery rate of eggs is much higher,” he said. Forty-year old Shruti Sood is keen on utilising the bank’s facilities. “My biological clock is ticking away and it is unlikely that I will conceive without assistance. I am willing to pay the price for the egg,” said Sood.

A donor is given hormone injections to produce eggs, which are then retrieved with the help of an ultrasound machine. The procedure takes about 20 minutes and is done under general anaesthesia. The patient is discharged after three hours. The eggs are then dissected by the embryologist and prepared for freezing. These dissected eggs are frozen in a straw after a special procedure. The temperatures are gradually dropped - at the rate of 0.3 degrees centigrade every minute - and kept in liquid nitrogen containers at minus 196 degrees centigrade. Every four days, the nitrogen level is checked and maintained.

“Four months later the donor is tested for HIV. If the tests are negative, then the quarantined eggs are thawed and used. We ensure that the eggs are totally free from the possibility of transmitting HIV,” said Dr Pai. Two types of donors - voluntary and shared - will assist the ova bank in helping infertile couples. The former needs to be in the 21 to 33 years age group, preferably married with children.

Shared donors are those who are trying to get pregnant through IVF and Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), but cannot afford the expenses. These patients produce many eggs while undergoing ovarian stimulation. While half the eggs are kept for the patient herself, the other half is donated to a recipient who pays for it.

Though the first frozen egg baby was born (in Australia) in 1990, the success rate of the ova banks picked up only in the last three years. The Lilavati team has imported the ova bank technology from Denmark and Japan. Interestingly, the DNA Ovum Bank - headquartered in Seoul - claims to be Asia’s first and largest human egg bank in the business.

According to Dr Ashok Anand - associate professor of Gynaecology and Obstetric, Sir JJ Group of Hospitals — the concept will catch on. “The number of infertile patients is very large, so alternatives are welcome. It will be a help to those women who want to conceive at a later date,” said Dr Anand. There are 20 million infertile couples in India, reveals statistics of the World Health Organisation. While the success rate for IVF is 20-25 per cent, it is only 10 to 12 per cent for ICSI.

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