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Durable Critters Provides Better Way to Human Egg Preservation

sperm to get through the traditional way. "You don’t have this issue with an embryo because fertilization already has occurred," Dr. Eroglu says.

Intracytoplasmic sperm injection came into use in 1997 to help overcome the hardened jelly coat but other problems persist. Chemical stress, freezing or warming can disrupt the egg’s mechanism for dividing chromosomes – babies get half their chromosomes from mom and half from dad – so they don’t line up as they should. In addition to hardening the jelly coat, cold stress can change intracellular signaling resulting from sperm penetration. Lipids or fats in the egg can fuse and the membrane can become leaky.

The bottom line is only about 1-5 percent of eggs develop to term after standard cryopreservation techniques, which include a combination of slow freezing in conjunction with low levels of cryoprotectants such as dimethyl sulfoxide, or rapid freezing with more cryoprotectants.

Dr. Eroglu says the sugars, which help protect the natural structure of proteins, enable use of warmer temperatures and fewer cryoprotectants. He uses the tried and true intracytoplasmic sperm injection approach to deliver sugar – instead of sperm - to eggs before cooling. One of his ultimate goals is to design sugars that can easily penetrate the egg’s membrane, but at least for now, tardigrade sugars seem to work just fine in mice.

One of his many hopes is that freezing embryos won’t always be necessary, whether it’s a human or an endangered species. Rather, eggs and sperm – which have been frozen successfully for decades – can be kept apart until fertilization is desirable. This could preclude the controversy of destroying unused embryos and perhaps the debate over embryonic stem cells, he says.

Eggs, which can reprogram cell function by turning genes off and on, can produce cells that can become essentially anything, Dr. Eroglu says. If he can better understand how they do this, regular body
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