Second US fertility clinic experiences freezer malfunction resulting in damage to eggs, embryos

San Francisco-based Pacific Fertility Center informed roughly 500 fertility patients that a storage tank malfunction March 4 may have left their eggs and embryos unviable, according to The Washington Post.  

The March 4 incident, which was made public March 11, follows a similar malfunction that occurred the same weekend at a fertility clinic at Beachwood, Ohio-based University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center.

While the extent of the damage in both scenarios is unclear, the potential damage to eggs in both incidents would be a financial and emotional blow to the fertility patients, including women storing embryos, women donating their eggs and women seeking to delay a pregnancy.  According to The Post, the process of removing and freezing a woman's eggs can cost more than $10,000, plus yearly storage fees.

The incident at the Pacific Fertility Center resulted from a liquid nitrogen failure in a storage tank that contained "several thousand" eggs and embryos, or about 15 percent of the total stored at the facility. The failure was discovered by the clinic's lab director, who noticed the level of liquid nitrogen in one of its steel storage tanks was too low, which resulted in a temperature increase. The increased temperature risks damage to the eggs and embryos.

Immediately upon discovering the temperature increase March 4, the lab director transferred the jeopardized eggs to a spare storage tank. Staff members at the clinic then spent days going through patient records to verify which patients were affected.

On March 10, Pacific Fertility staff began notifying more than 400 patients who had all of their eggs or embryos stored in the affected tank and roughly 100 more patients who had about half of their eggs in the affected storage tank. The clinic also notified the other unaffected patients about the incident via email.

"This was a terrible incident," Pacific Fertility Center President Carl Herbert, MD, told The Post. "But I was reassured that … [staff] did everything anybody could ever want to do."

The San Francisco-based clinic has brought in a team to investigate the malfunction.

In the earlier incident Ohio, UH officials notified about 700 patients that their frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged. UH has also launched an investigation to determine the cause of the freezer malfunction.

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