Cryo shipping explained
What is cryo shipping?
Cryo shipping is the process of transporting genetic material, such as sperm, eggs, and embryos, from one clinic to another. Most reproductive tissue is stored in process called vitrification, which is far more effective than the slow freezing procedures of the past. Vitrification is a demanding and complex process that doesn’t have any room for error.
With vitrification, your embryos and other genetic materials need to stay below -120 Celsius at all times, or they can become damaged and unusable. On the other hand, slow-frozen cells can handle a brief rise in temperature up to -20 Celsius degree. That’s why cryo shipping in the past was slightly less technical – there was slightly more leeway for accidental rises in temperature. However, the overall success rates with the thawed materials were far lower – vitrification is by far the better choice.
For long term storage, your reproductive tissues will be stored in cryo storage tanks filled with liquid nitrogen kept at -196 Celsius. At this temperature, all of the cell’s biological processes are suspended, enabling them to be thawed and used for IVF. Your eggs, sperm, and/or embryos can be safely cryo stored for decades, as long as the tanks are kept at a stable low temperature. This requires regular refilling with liquid nitrogen.
For shipping, the genetic materials are removed from the tank and placed in a shipping dewar. The dewar cannot be filled with liquid nitrogen, as no UK or EU airlines allow it on board. As a result, the shipping dewar is filled with “retention foam,” a sort of sponge that absorbs the liquid nitrogen and releases only its vapours.
While it’s normal to worry about the integrity of the shipping dewar, it can actually maintain a sufficiently low temperature of between -150 and -190 Celsius for several days, and sometimes even more than a week. This is more than enough time to allow for the dewar to reach its destination, even when accounting for potential delays.
When the shipping dewar arrives at your destination clinic, they’ll remove the tissues and re-immerse them in a cryo storage tank.
Who needs cryo shipping?
The laws around storing and shipping sperm, eggs, and embryos are different in every country.
For instance, the UK only allows the storage of eggs, sperm, and embryos for up to ten years, except in rare circumstances. So, as you approach your freezing deadlines, you might choose to transport your gametes to other countries with less stringent restrictions.
For a variety of reasons, your partner may not be able to be with you during the IVF process. In that case, you can arrange to have their sperm or eggs transported to your clinic’s location.
In other cases, you might have found an egg or sperm donor in another country. Some countries don’t make egg or sperm donation very easy, and it can be a lot simpler to source a donor in another country and have it sent to your IVF clinic in a shipping dewar.
Your clinic will be able to advise you on the laws and regulations about importing donor sperm or eggs. Similarly, surrogacy can often require the cryo shipping of genetic material to the surrogate’s home country.
If you need to move your eggs, sperm, or embryos to a different country, you need to find a cryo shipper who can guarantee a speedy delivery and safe, functional shipping dewars.
Process and Timeline of Shipping Eggs, Sperm or Embryos
When it comes to shipping sperm, eggs, or embryos, it’s all about planning and paperwork. It can be quite a straight-ahead process as long as you have your paperwork in order.
While your necessary documentation may vary, you’ll usually need the following documentation for cryo shipping. Again, your clinics can help you with all of the paperwork you need to arrange the cryoshipper.
- A completed form that includes your request and permission to release your reproductive tissue from your original clinic and transport it to another clinic
- Confirmation in writing from your destination clinic that they are ready and willing to receive your cryo shipment
- A letter expressing your trust in your courier and explicitly stating your permission for them to transport your reproductive tissue
- Tests showing your HIV 1, 2 & 0, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Syphilis status
Remember – every country, airline, and clinic have their own requirements for documentation – be sure to speak with both your original and destination clinic for accurate information. If your paperwork is in order, your reproductive materials will usually arrive in a matter of days.
Risks of Cryo Shipping
Shipping sperm and shipping frozen embryos is a relatively safe and successful process, but accidents and mix-ups do happen. Of course, the biggest risk of cryo shipping is a faulty dewar that causes your embryos to rise in temperature or thaw completely.
Another common problem is a mix-up or confusion when checking in with the airline or going through immigration/customs, delaying your courier and potentially causing your dewar to thaw. That’s why it’s always so important to work with a trusted cryoshipper who has experience working in your clinic’s country.
Choosing Embryo Transportation Services
Laws and regulations differ from country to country, leading more people than ever to seek fertility services abroad. As a result, the demand for cryo shipping is also increasing. People want reliable companies for shipping frozen embryos internationally.
When it comes to choosing a cryo shipping company, it’s essential to ensure they have extensive experience and knowledge in the field. They need to understand how to handle the shipping dewars and navigate the oft-complex airline and customs rules. These fragile cells are of the utmost importance, and so it pays to work with a trusted, reliable company.
Here are a few things you should look for in a cryo shipper:
- Proven experience transporting reproductive tissue to your destination country from your originating country
- Excellent reviews from past clients
- State of the art cryo shipping equipment and experience with the latest technology and methods
- Verbal or written recommendations from either (or both) of your clinics
- A thorough understanding of airline and customs policies
If you change clinics during your IVF journey and especially if you decide to go abroad for treatment, what happens to those precious, fragile frozen