Sperm Banks (9)
Articles and information on the purpose, practice, and regulation of sperm banks.
A sperm bank collects and stores human sperm from a variety of donors. The primary purpose of the sperm bank is to help women become pregnant through third-party reproduction, primarily artificial insemination. Some sperm banks also provide material for research purposes.
Every year, thousands of women use sperm banks to become mothers despite circumstances that would otherwise make it difficult to become pregnant. Women who are single, have infertile male partners, or are in same-sex relationships particularly benefit from sperm banks. In addition, couples who are at high risk of inherited diseases, such as Tay-Sachs disease and cystic fibrosis, may also use donor sperm to produce a child.
It is important to understand that while sperm banks help couples who have fertility issues, they do not provide a physical cure for infertility. Women who become pregnant through the most common types of artificial insemination (intra-cervical insemination and intra-uterine insemination) must themselves be fertile. Children conceived through artificial insemination will be genetically related to the sperm donor, not the mother’s partner (unless they are the same person).
After a sperm sample is collected, it is tested for:
- Sperm concentration
- Sperm motility (the number of live, swimming sperm)
- Sperm forward progression (the sperm’s rate and speed of forward movement)
- Viscosity (the liquidity of the ejaculate; thicker semen makes it more difficult for sperm to travel)
- Sperm Morphology (the percentage of sperm that have a normal oval shape)
- White blood cell count (high blood cell counts may indicate infection)
After testing the sperm may be washed, which concentrates the sperm and removes dead cells. Finally, it is then stored in small vials or straws and cryogenically preserved in liquid nitrogen tanks.
Before donating, sperm donors begin by filling out an application that includes such information as their age, occupation, education, and ancestry. After their initial application, donors provide a sperm sample for initial analysis, and then they provide a blood sample and an extensive medical history. Finally, sperm donors take blood tests throughout the time of their donations for:
- Human T-cell lymphotropic viruses
- Hepatitis B & C
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
- Karyotyping 46 XY
- Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
Sperm is frozen and stored for a minimum of 6 months before being released for use to ensure that the donor is healthy and disease-free. For a sperm bank with extensive testing, see the Seattle Sperm Bank: www.seattlespermbank.com.
Most donor sperm is sent to a fertility clinic, where a medical practitioner will assist the recipient with artificial insemination. However, donor sperm may be also sent directly to the recipient, who may then perform her own artificial insemination.
The most common types of artificial insemination are:
- Intracervical insemination (ICI), in which the donor sperm is placed in the cervix. ICI may be performed with either washed or unwashed sperm.
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI), in which the donor sperm is placed directly in the uterus. Washed sperm is used for IUI.
- In-vitro fertilization (IVF), in which the egg is fertilized by the sperm outside the body, and the fertilized egg is later implanted in the uterus.
Medically, a pregnancy achieved using donor sperm and artificial insemination is no different from a pregnancy achieved using partner sperm and sexual intercourse.
It is important for sperm bank clients to select a donor who has a compatible blood type with the mother, to prevent pregnancy complications. However, clients may also use a variety of other information to select a donor, including physical appearance, education and personality traits.
Sperm banks provide a variety of information about their donors to help clients select a donor. This information may include:
- Physical appearance: eye color, hair color, height, weight
- Baby photo
- Blood type
- Education (level and major)
- Personality profile (e.g. Keirsey tests)
- Audio interview
- Staff impressions
In the United States, sperm banks are highly regulated by the FDA and several state agencies, including the New York State Department of Health and the California State Department of Health. These regulations protect the unborn children by ensuring that donors are healthy and free of diseases that are transmissible through semen. A sperm bank that is licensed by the FDA, the State of New York, and the State of California is the European Sperm Bank USA, which has a lab in Seattle, Washington.