The vast majority of eggs frozen by expectant mothers go unused, causing headaches for IVF clinics and the prevention of potentially ground-breaking research.
Scientists decry a wasted opportunity as thousands of frozen eggs sit unused in storage instead of being used in potentially valuable medical research.
Hopeful mothers have frozen 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 found.
“The number of frozen eggs in storage continues to exceed those used in treatment or given up from storage – either to be thrown away or donated,” said lead researcher Molly Johnston.
“This has implications for fertility clinics that will need new strategies to avoid an unsustainable build-up of stored frozen eggs.”
Laws governing how long frozen eggs are allowed to be kept in storage vary by state, but New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland sets a general limit of 10 years.
Despite the large amount of excess eggs at fertility clinics across the country, very few end up being donated to research or other prospective parents.
Only 15% of patients who removed their eggs from storage chose to donate excess eggs to others for reproductive purposes, while no eggs were donated to research projects due to legal restrictions.
Despite a survey finding that more than half of patients would like their eggs to be donated to research if they are surplus, clinics in Australia are not allowed to store eggs in advance for future research.
Dr Johnston said the restrictions lead to a wasted opportunity for further advancement of fertility techniques.
“The prospect of allowing donation and storage for future research should be explored to increase the pool of available eggs for both current and future research,” she said.
There has been a dramatic increase 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 fertility clinics due to 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 head of reproductive services at the Royal Women’s Hospital, Kate Stern, has called for more sperm and egg donors to help meet growing demand for the service.
“When people realize that being a donor is associated with identity release but [there are] no responsibilities for the children, I think that’s quite reassuring,” Assok Prof Stern said in November.
“It’s a serious thing to do, but it’s an incredible gift and we really want Victorians to consider donating anything they can.”