Vials, Straws, IUI, ICI, ART, ICSI, what are they?!

Vials and Straws

Sperm Banks process and store Donor Sperm in several formats. Vials and Straws refers to the type of container the frozen sperm is stored in. The type of media that sperm is stored in is determined by the sperm bank and is mostly a logistical decision related to how the sperm will be safely stored, labelled, and transported.

Some fertility clinics have a preference or requirement related to the type of media. For example, some fertility clinics will only use vials for insemination procedures. This is typically determined by the equipment and processes used at the fertility clinic.

Most straws contain 0.5 ml of semen, while vials often contain between 0.5 ml to 1 ml of semen.

IUI, ICI, ART, and ICSI Vials/Straws

Donor Sperm is typically available in a number of different formats. You will see donor sperm available in several different formats such IUI, ICI, ICSI, and ART in Sperm Bank Donor Catalogues.

IUI – This format is pre-washed and ready for IUI Procedures. It can also be used for ICI/IVI procedures. Vials marked as IUI typically have a high minimum motile cell count.

ICI – This format is unwashed. These vials are typically used in ICI/IVI procedures. The ICI vials contain extra seminal fluid. It is thought this fluid can help sperm travel into the uterus, but there is no reason to believe that IUI vs ICI is necessarily better for ICI/IVI procedures. Vials marked as ICI typically have a high minimum motile cell count.

A.R.T. – ART vials are often available in both washed (IUI) and unwashed (ICI) formats. IUI ART vials and ICI ART vials have a lower motile cell count then the Standard IUI and ICI vials and are typically available at a lower cost then the more premium Standard vials. A.R.T. vials are often as effective as the more premium vials with higher minimum motile cell counts. Discuss with your Doctor to see if these are a good option.

ICSI – ICSI vials are pre-washed vials that have a lower count then Standard and A.R.T. IUI vials. These vials typically have the lowest motile sperm of the available vial types, but they can be effective in many fertilization procedures such in-vitro and intracytoplasmic sperm injection. ICSI vials are normally offered at a lower cost then the standard IUI vials.

How are donors screened?

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:

  • HIV
  • Human T-cell lymphotropic viruses
  • Syphilis
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • 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:

How is sperm stored?

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)
  • pH
  • 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.