A California-based fertility company is offering prospective parents a range of celebrity ‘look-a-like’ sperm donors. Cryobank, which is also planning to offer services in New York, allows customers to search through a database according to characteristics such as ethinicity and eye colour without revealing donors’ photographs. In addition, the company has now added features that resemble celebrities such as David Beckham and David Blaine.
Cryobank’s introduction on its website reads: ‘Have you ever wondered if your favorite donor looks like anyone famous? You know how tall he is and his hair and eye color, but wouldn’t it be great to have an idea of what he really LOOKS like? Now you can find out with a click of your mouse!’
Scott Browne, a spokesman for Cryobank said that ‘the intention is not to suggest the child will look like one of the celebrities. It’s just to personalise the donor. I think in their heads they know the medical history is most important, but ultimately we’re all interested in what someone looks like. It’s what we do when we’re dating or meet someone. I didn’t ask my wife her medical history before I decided to marry her.’
Potential sperm donors are put through a rigorous screening process delving into their health and medical history before finding out which celebrity they most closely resemble. Browne says the process of deciding which donor resembles which celebrity is not easy: ‘There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s not just sitting in a room deciding who looks like Ben Affleck, what sounded really easy got complicated when we realised that people see people in completely different ways,’ he said. He added: ‘So we’re very concerned about misleading clients. One rule we made was that a donor never gets just one celeb. And one of our representatives can always get on the phone and explain.’
The company’s New York Park Avenue branch will not be open for a few months but from this week prospective parents can search the database online for celebrity look-a-like sperm.
Two independent studies presented at a European fertility meeting this week highlight new techniques for selecting those sperm most likely to result in successful pregnancies following IVF using intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). The first, by Italian scientists, uses high-powered microscopy to choose the healthiest-looking sperm for fertilisation, while the second, by US scientists, uses fluorescence microscopy to distinguish which ‘healthy-looking’ sperm are in fact harbouring DNA damage, which can decrease the chances of achieving pregnancy.
The Italian group, lead by Dr Monica Antinori, of RAPRUI clinic in Rome, used a microscope five times more powerful than standard microscopes to select sperm with the best genetic quality on the basis of their size and shape. When these sperm were each injected directly into an egg, they found that the overall pregnancy rate rose from 26.5 per cent in patients treated using standard methods, to 39.2 per cent in those treated with the new approach, known as intra-cytoplasmic morphologically-selected sperm injection (IMSI).
‘By treating this kind of patient with this technique, we offer them an opportunity to solve their fertility problems. As you can see from the results, the group that has had two or more IVF failures can get more than twice the opportunity to have a pregnancy with this new technique’, Dr Antinori told the Times newspaper. But, being about twice as expensive as ICSI, which costs between £3,000 and £5,000 in the UK, the treatment does come at a price, warned Dr Antinori.
Meanwhile, the US group, led by Mr Conrado Avendano, of the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Virginia, found that 20-66 per cent of the sperm selected using conventional methods – which analyse size and shape using much lower power microscopy than the IMSI method – turned out to be harbouring DNA damage, suggesting that appearances can be deceptive and should therefore not be solely relied on.
‘DNA-damaged sperm has a highly deleterious effect on the ability to achieve a pregnancy. Even if damaged sperm are used and the woman becomes pregnant, the chances of miscarrying are significantly higher’, said Mr Avendano, speaking at the annual meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).
While these studies have the potential to bring dramatic benefits to infertile males, they also highlight the need for further research to evaluate the various methods available for identifying the sperm most likely to result in pregnancy.
A legal fight by a UK woman to have a child using sperm taken from her husband after his death is underway. The case highlights the need for regulatory clarity on the issue, which first came to prominence in 1995 when Diane Blood won the right to conceive using sperm from her comatose spouse.
Doctors were allowed to harvest the sperm as the unnamed 42-year old woman and her husband, from Twickenham. London, had just begun fertility treatment, a judge ruled. However, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) are questioning the legality of the sperm extraction process. The law currently requires the man’s written consent, although a gynaecologist has confirmed that the couple were seeking fertility treatment before the man’s death. ‘Had the husband had the opportunity to give consent in writing, it is clear from the overwhelming evidence that he would have done so’, said David Josiah-Lake, the solicitor representing the woman. In Diane Blood’s case, she was eventually permitted to undergo treatment abroad when the HFEA lifted its ban on the export of human gametes. She now has two children. She supports the current applicant, saying: ‘If the couple were engaged on a joint venture to have a child and there is evidence from a conversation that the deceased would have wished the surviving partner to continue with that notwithstanding his death, then I see no need for that consent to be in writing. I cannot imagine life without my children. They bring joy to a great many people including my late husband’s family’.
Vincent Cable, the widow’s local Liberal Democrat MP, submitted an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, currently passing through parliament, which would allow the use of sperm in such cases in the UK, removing complications surrounding cross-border fertility treatments. He additionally proposed that a consultant’s confirmation of the deceased’s intention to have children should be sufficient evidence of consent. ‘This amendment is quite narrowly drawn but would deal with a small number of specific cases where it is a woman’s right to have a child by her partner. In this case the couple were already embarking on fertility treatment and it was clear her husband had it in mind to support her having
a child in this way, so she could have a stronger case than Mrs Blood’, said Cable.
The widow hopes that the HFEA will allow her to use her late husband’s sperm to conceive a brother or sister for their only daughter. The HFEA said that they could not comment on the case as it was before court.
A new study has shown that becoming a father after the age of 45 increases the likelihood that the resulting child will die before reaching adulthood. The researchers, based at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, who published their findings in the European Journal of Epidemiology, say that the reason for this is the decline in the quality of sperm as men age.The research shows that children born from older fathers are more likely to suffer from a number of birth defects and conditions such as autism, schizophrenia or epilepsy. The majority of deaths were found to be caused by congenital defects that increased the risk of infant mortality, such as heart problems.
Children born to men aged 45 and above were found to be up to 88 per cent more likely to die before adulthood than those born to men aged between 25 and 29, the researchers found. The researchers looked at 100,000 children born between 1980 and 1996 using data taken from the Danish Fertility Database, and found that 831 of these had died before reaching the age of 13 – 601 of these died in their first year. Similar results were found for men who fathered children while still in their teens, but could perhaps be explained by their mothers also being young and often therefore disadvantaged, say the researchers. Jin Liang Zhu, from the Danish Epidemiology Science Centre, and lead researcher in the study, said that ‘the risks of older fatherhood can be very profound, and it is not something that people are always aware of’. People tend to be far more aware of the risks associated with older mothers, such as the increased prevalence of Down Syndrome, although it has also previously been shown that this may be affected by the father’s age as well.
Speaking to the Melbourne Herald Sun, Professor Les Sheffield, a clinical geneticist from Melbourne’s Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, explained that genetic errors in sperm increase by half a per cent when a man reaches 40, by 2 per cent when he is 50, by 5 per cent when he is 60 and by 20 per cent by the time he is 80. He added that on the basis of this, ‘men around 40 ought to be thinking about the increased risk to their children, the same as women do’.