What is involved in using donor eggs?
Donor eggs are currently in very short supply worldwide with demand significantly outweighing supply. To ensure we provide high quality donors, we only source donors from reputable egg banks in the UK and overseas and we will guide you through the process of selecting a donor who is right for you.
Who is Egg Donation for?
Premature infertility: You may wish to use donor eggs if you have become prematurely infertile and your body is no longer producing eggs at all or of a suitable quality for effective fertility treatment. This may occur if you have been diagnosed with early menopause or if you are undergoing chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer.
Advanced maternal age: Success rates for fertility treatment using the patient’s own eggs are very low in women beyond the age of 42. In cases of advanced maternal age you may choose to use donor eggs from a younger lady to significantly improve your chances of becoming pregnant.
Genetic conditions: You may have been advised by a genetic counsellor and taken the decision not to have children naturally or use your own eggs in fertility treatment due to the risk of you passing on a genetic medical condition to any children born as a result of treatment.
There are many medical, ethical, religious, legal and moral aspects which need to be considered. Some of these will be covered in consultation with the staff at Cambridge IVF before you embark on treatment however, it is important that we highlight to you the need for all people considering treatment with donor gametes to see a fertility specialist counsellor for implications counselling. At Cambridge IVF implications counselling is now mandatory before treatment can commence. This is to give you the opportunity to talk through all aspects of donor conception, to protect you and any future donor conceived children and to ensure you are making an informed decision. Information on our counselling services is available from our website.
What is the HFEA and why does it have to be involved?
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is the body that regulates fertility treatment in the UK. They license all clinics providing IVF and donor insemination and keep a register of all licensed fertility treatments and children born as a result. This includes information about whether the treatment uses donated sperm, eggs or embryos.
What do I need to know before I choose my donor?
It is important that we know whether or not you carry a virus called Cytomegalovirus (CMV) when we are considering selection of a sperm donor. CMV is one of the most common viral infections. It is estimated that around half of all adults in the UK have been infected by CMV. Most people develop the infection during early childhood or as a teenager and do not realise they have been infected as it causes few symptoms. Once you have been infected by CMV, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life, but does not usually cause you any further problems.
It is important however to understand that CMV can cause serious problems if a woman has her first CMV infection during pregnancy as the infection can spread to the unborn baby (known as congenital CMV). It is estimated that 1-2 babies in every 200 will be born with congenital CMV in the UK. Of these, only about 10% will have problems, but they can be serious and include things such as hearing loss and learning difficulties.
A simple blood test will tell you if you carry CMV. If the result of this test is POSITIVE this shows that you already have the CMV virus and there is no risk of viral exposure during pregnancy. This means you can select either a CMV positive or CMV negative sperm donor for your treatment. If the result is NEGATIVE, you do not have the CMV virus and there is a risk that you could become infected by the virus during pregnancy. You should therefore limit your sperm donor selection to only donors who are clearly indicated as CMV NEGATIVE for your treatment.
This may sound confusing but don’t worry, we are here to guide you through the process. We can even arrange for you to have the CMV blood test taken here at Cambridge IVF although we may have to charge you for this. Some GPs are happy to take a CMV blood test for you so, if you wish, you can enquire with your GP who may do this for you free of charge.
Who are the donors and how are they selected?
Fertility treatment in the UK is highly regulated by the HFEA and therefore donors recruited in the UK must meet the requirements of UK law. This also means that any donor eggs imported into the UK must also be compliant with UK legislation.
According to UK law, donors are aged 35 or under and have usually completed their own family. Donation is purely on a voluntary basis and no payment is made for this other than expenses incurred.
Donors can be recruited in a number of ways:
- Self-recruited donors: These are donors who are known to you who are willing to donate their eggs to you.
- Clinic recruited donors – These are donors recruited by the clinic. They may be egg sharers who need IVF treatment themselves and are donating some of their eggs to you, or altruistic donors who are donating all of their eggs.
How is the donor chosen?
All donors are screened thoroughly to ensure they are physically fit and free from diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis. Details of their height, weight, blood group, hair and eye colour are available so that we can match them with your characteristics.
How Does the Process Work?
Referral and initial consultation:
Before you can commence treatment we will arrange an appointment to see you and your partner (if applicable). One of our Consultant Fertility Specialists will take you through the process and ask you to complete a series of consent forms to ensure that the treatment is appropriate and that your personal circumstances make you an appropriate egg recipient.
You will then see one of our Fertility Nurse Specialists who will complete the consent process and take a series of blood samples from you to test you for infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis. The nurse will provide you with a characteristics form to complete with your characteristics for donor matching purposes. We will also ask for a semen sample so that we can check that there are enough sperm of suitable quality to allow us to fertilise the eggs using the appropriate procedure. It is advisable to arrange the semen analysis appointment in advance of the initial consultation, in order that the results can be made available to the Consultant at your appointment.
After this appointment we advise you to arrange an appointment with a counsellor for implications counselling.
Selecting a donor – the process and timescale
Finding an appropriate donor can take some time due to the various considerations to be made when choosing a donor that you are comfortable with and due to the low availability of donor eggs. For this reason we advise you to allow at least two months from your first appointment with us to the point at which you are ready to commence treatment. We will guide you through the process and ensure that any donor you choose is suitable for you.
Please also bear in mind that if you are undergoing treatment using frozen eggs, morally and ethically we cannot permit you to start your treatment until your donor eggs have arrived, been checked and are securely stored at Cambridge IVF.
We will do everything we can to assist you in finding an egg donor, however it is important to be aware that due to the scarcity of donor eggs your treatment may be delayed or cancelled if a suitable donor is not available.
There are two options for choosing a donor when undergoing treatment with Cambridge IVF:
Self-recruited donors: These are donors who are known to you who are willing to donate their eggs to you. If you are fortunate enough to have a willing egg donor, we will also arrange a separate consultation appointment for the donor and their partner if they have one. At this appointment one of our consultant Fertility Specialists will take your donor through the process, take her medical history and complete consent forms appropriate to her to ensure that she is a suitable candidate. She will then also see a counsellor for implications counselling and one of our Fertility Nurse Specialists to complete the consent process and commence donor screening through blood tests.
Clinic recruited donors – These are donors recruited by the clinic. They may be egg sharers who need IVF treatment themselves and are donating some of their eggs to you, or altruistic donors who are donating all of their eggs.
Cambridge IVF has partnered with Manchester Fertility Services (MFS), a UK based and highly regarded provider of donor gametes (sperm and eggs) to provide a source of donor eggs to our patients. The eggs have been donated by UK based donors according to the regulatory requirements of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Cambridge IVF will provide MFS with donor matching data (your height, hair colour, eye colour and build) and request a donor match. MFS will send Cambridge IVF a selection of 2 donors and we will pass these on to you to allow you to select the donor which is the closest match for you.
Getting eggs and transporting them to Cambridge: Our arrangement with MFS allows each patient to select a total of 8 eggs from their selected donor for delivery to Cambridge. The eggs are frozen and stored at MFS via a process called vitrification. Once you have selected your donor, we will check that the donor is appropriate for you and then you place the order for the eggs directly with MFS. MFS will then arrange for the delivery of the eggs to Cambridge IVF as soon as possible thereafter. The eggs are transported to Cambridge IVF via a specialist cryogenic courier in a device called a ‘dry shipper’ which is designed to maintain ultra-low temperature (-196oC) for up to 21 days. When the eggs arrive in Cambridge, we carefully unpack them, check all of the details and load them into one of our cryogenic storage devices where they will remain in storage until you wish to start your treatment cycle.
Why do I need 8 eggs?
Evidence from the use of frozen eggs suggests that the best balance between cost and treatment success is provided by using 8 eggs in treatment. The intention is to generate more embryos than you would use in a single cycle of treatment (which is 1 or 2). We would then aim to freeze any additional embryos of suitable quality at an advanced stage of their development (known as the blastocyst stage) 5 or 6 days after fertilisation occurred using a vitrification technique similar to that used to initially store the eggs. The success rates from using frozen / thawed embryos do not vary statistically from those using fresh embryos so we are able to extend your treatment options beyond one embryo transfer using this strategy, thus minimising the need to buy more eggs should you wish or need to have a second embryo transfer.
Once you have found your egg donor and everything is in place, you are ready to commence treatment.
If you are using a known donor we will use medication to synchronise yours and your donor’s cycles in order that once the eggs have been collected from the donor and embryos created, an embryo can be transferred to you at the correct time of your cycle. If you would prefer to freeze your donor’s eggs or create embryos and freeze those in order to quarantine them, there is no need to synchronise your cycles.
If you have opted to use a clinic recruited donor and cryopreserved eggs we will give you medication and monitor your cycle to thaw the eggs at the time that you would be ovulating naturally.
What happens after thawing eggs or collecting them from a known donor?
After thawing eggs we will need to ensure that the eggs meet the sperm in order to allow the process of fertilisation to take place and to allow embryos to develop. We will inseminate your eggs using a procedure called Intracytoplasmic-sperm-injection (ICSI). During ICSI we select a single sperm and manually inject it into the middle of the egg. Please be aware that ICSI treatment is recommended when using frozen-thawed eggs in treatment as opposed to conventional IVF. This is because studies have demonstrated that the shell surrounding the egg hardens during the freezing process and can therefore prevent the sperm from entering the egg. We can overcome this problem by using ICSI. More information on ICSI is available in our separate patient information sheet for this technique.
If we are using fresh eggs from a known donor we will carry out the surgical egg collection to retrieve the eggs and then inseminate them using sperm. The method of insemination used (IVF or ICSI) will depend on the quality of the semen sample.
Once fertilisation is achieved the embryo/s will be observed in the laboratory for 6 days, an embryo transfer will be performed on the most appropriate day and any remaining suitable embryos will be frozen for your use on day 5 or day 6. Frozen embryos can be used in a future frozen embryo replacement cycle.
What happens to the embryos if they are not frozen?
Embryos that are not suitable for freezing are put into a solution that stops them growing then they are discarded. Your embryos will not be given to another couple. Embryos may be donated to research but only with your written consent.
What does frozen embryo replacement cycle involve?
The treatment can be carried out using your natural cycle without the use of drugs and timed to ensure the embryo is transferred on the optimal day of your cycle for implantation and hopefully pregnancy to occur. The alternative involves taking medication to thicken the lining of the uterus (endometrium). This is usually in the form of tablets or patches, followed by vaginal/rectal pessaries. One of our fertility nurse specialists will go through with you the type of treatment schedule that has been considered by the medical team to be the most effective for your circumstances.
What happens at embryo transfer?
The embryos are transferred into your uterus (womb) via a small catheter gently inserted vaginally and then through the cervical canal. No anaesthetic is needed for this procedure. You may have your partner or someone with you during the procedure.
What happens after the embryo transfer?
You will be able to stay in the unit for a while until you feel ready to leave. Some people prefer to leave straight away and others prefer to stay in the recovery area for a while. Either option will not affect the outcome of the procedure.
We advise you to lead as normal a life as possible after the transfer - without doing anything too strenuous! There is no need to abstain from sexual activity after the embryo transfer. We will advise you of the medications that you need at this stage of treatment. There is nothing more you can do at this stage to help the embryos to implant.
What happens at the pregnancy test time?
After the embryo transfer we will give you information about what happens next including a date for the pregnancy test. This is usually about 12 days after the embryo transfer. You will be asked to perform a urine pregnancy test at home and contact us with the results. If the pregnancy test is positive we will arrange a scan in 3 weeks to ensure that the pregnancy is continuing. If the test is negative we will arrange an appointment for you to review the treatment cycle with a member of our medical team and discuss your future options. Occasionally the pregnancy test is inconclusive and we may have to ask you to repeat it or take a blood test to confirm the result. We will let you know as quickly as possible if this is something we need to do.
What is my chance of a successful outcome using frozen eggs?
Studies have demonstrated that your chance of a successful outcome using frozen-thawed eggs is the same as that using fresh eggs in ICSI treatment. Of course, in your case, the biological age of your eggs will, in most cases, be younger than you at the time of treatment. This should increase your chance of a successful outcome compared to other women in your age group using their own fresh eggs.
Are eggs harmed by being frozen?
Evidence from a very wide published evidence base as well as from MFS and from Cambridge IVF suggests that in excess of 80% of the eggs will survive the freezing and thawing process. MFS offer a guarantee that if none of your eggs survive or we are not able to generate an embryo for you for transfer you will receive a full refund of the cost of the eggs.
What are the risks to me and any resultant child when using donor eggs?
The main risk to you and any resultant child when undergoing treatment with donor eggs is the risk of transmission of genetic and infectious conditions. Under UK law, all approved donors must be rigorously screened for infectious and genetic diseases prior to acceptance. In all cases, donors must be screened for the following conditions as a minimum:
- HIV 1 & 2
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- HTLV 1 & 2
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Karyotype (Genetic screening)
Despite these stringent checks, we can never rule out the possibility that a donor may be the carrier of a genetically inheritable condition which may only come to light after you have received your treatment. In situations where this information is presented to us following your treatment we will contact you to inform you and explain the implications of the information we have received.
If you choose to undergo treatment using a known donor with fresh eggs rather than cryopreserved eggs, you should be aware that that it is not possible to quarantine the eggs to complete infection screening. Some infections can only be detected after an incubation period. This means that eggs which are frozen can remain in quarantine until the donor has been re-screened once the incubation period has passed. With fresh egg donation quarantining eggs and re-screening the donor is not possible and therefore the potential risk of infection is increased. Alternatively you may choose to freeze your donor’s eggs, or create embryos from the eggs and freeze those, in order to be able to rescreen the donor following the quarantine period and therefore reduce the risk of infection.
What are the risks to a child born using frozen eggs?
There is no evidence that any babies resulting from thawed eggs have an increased risk of harm or abnormality or that the pregnancy itself is at more risk because a frozen / thawed egg has been used. Cambridge IVF constantly monitor our results and pass on information to the HFEA which allows high power data analysis to be carried out at a national level to ensure that we continue to operate safely and in as informed an environment as possible.
Could anything go wrong with our storage?
Cambridge IVF has a state of the art Cryostorage facility on site. Eggs are stored at very low (-196oC) temperatures using liquid nitrogen.
We do everything we can to maintain a high quality cryostore. We have a system in place that monitors the cryostore continually and will alert us immediately if there is the slightest suggestion of a problem. We use a high security storage system to reduce the theoretical risks of cross contamination between samples. Even with our exacting standards and commitment to quality in everything we do, we cannot provide a guarantee that your stored eggs may not be affected in the event of an ‘act of god’, civil disturbance, catastrophic equipment failure or any other unexpected and abnormal occurrence which may affect our service or facilities.
What are the costs involved?
The cost involved varies from patient to patient depending on specific requirements for drugs, monitoring and blood tests. Full financial information is available upon request or via our website.
When should I tell my child about their origins and what should I say?
Before undergoing any treatment involving donor gametes (sperm, eggs or both) you will no doubt have thought carefully about the various aspects of having a child.
You might consider such matters as whether, how, and when you will tell any potential child about his or her origin using donor gametes.
There are no hard and fast rules about the best time to tell your child, but many experts say that it is better to start early, even before your child can talk or understand the facts of life. This allows you to become familiar with talking to your child about how they were conceived so that, by the time they are old enough to ask questions, it is already an accepted part of their life story.
We collect identifying information including the name and address of the donor at the time of donation and this is submitted to the HFEA as part of the donor registration process. Any child born as a result of the use of donated gametes has access to this full set of information including identifying information from the age of 18 (or to a non-identifying set information pertaining to genetic siblings from the age of 16 should they wish to marry) if they request this in writing from the HFEA. This information will include;
- Physical description (height, weight and colour of eyes, hair and skin)
- Year and country of birth
- If the donor had any genetic children at the time of donation
- Their marital status
- If they were themselves conceived using donor gametes (if known)
- Reason for donating
- Goodwill message for offspring
- Pen portrait of themselves
- Any other information the donor wished to pass on (e.g. occupation)
And for children over the age of 18 will also include;
- Full name
- Date, town and district of birth
- Last known postal address at the time of donation
- Identifying information about genetically related siblings (with mutual consent)
Equally the donor themselves is allowed to request information on the number, sex and year of birth of any resultant children but no identifying information is given to the donor regarding the children born using their gametes.
Donors are encouraged to provide detailed information including a short description of themselves and a message of goodwill to any children conceived. This will be made available to you and you may find this helpful once your child starts to ask detailed questions. It is a good idea to talk to the clinic about how you could approach telling your child. The Donor Conception Network also offer advice and information leaflets and personal stories from other people who have been through the same process you are considering.
Will the child be legally mine? What do I put on the birth certificate?
If you and your partner were treated together at a licensed fertility clinic in the UK and have accurately completed the appropriate consent forms you are the legal parents of the child and should put your names on the birth certificate. The donor has no legal relationship or financial responsibilities towards the child. The change in the law on anonymity does not affect this.
Information regarding legal parenthood following donor gamete treatment can be complex and this information should be read in conjunction with our legal parenthood information for patients. It is important to ensure that your wishes are correctly represented in your consents to ensure that there is no confusion over the legal status of the parents after the birth of the child.
Can I use eggs for future siblings so my children have the same genetic origins?
You can if more eggs are available, though due to the current scarcity of donor eggs this is unlikely. You may be in the lucky situation where you have surplus embryos available after your embryo transfer. If this is the case we will culture those embryos to the blastocyst stage. If any of them form good quality blastocysts we will cryopreserve them for your future use, provided both the egg and sperm provider have consented to embryo freezing.
Our team of scientists, doctors, nurses and administrators has been carefully put together with a collective experience of over 150 years in the profession spanning more than 10 well respected clinics across the UK and Europe.
Our Consultants are all sub-speciality trained in Reproductive Medicine and are registered with the General Medical Council (GMC).
Our Fertility Nurse Specialists are all highly experienced, Royal College of Nursing (RGN) registered and have completed the British Fertility Society ultrasound scanning program.
Our Embryologists are either registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) or are working towards it and have all attained certification with the Association of Clinical Embryologists having successfully completed their internationally acclaimed training scheme.
We have put together the team based not only on their skill and depth of knowledge but also their desire to make Cambridge IVF a patient focussed and friendly unit which not only excels clinically but achieves this whilst maintaining a close and open relationship with our patients.
Fertility notes are kept securely and separately from general hospital records in such a way that your absolute confidentiality is assured. Clinics are required to collect and pass on information about donors, recipients and treatment cycles to the HFEA for its confidential Register.
Is there anyone else who knows how I /we feel?
We know from experience how stressful your treatment can be and how this can affect relationships. We offer a counselling service to provide you with any additional support you feel you may need. Please telephone us to arrange an appointment. There are also several support groups that may help.
Support groups and Resources;
- Fertility Network UK. The largest network in the UK offering information and advice. It has groups throughout the country and also produces a range of publications on infertility. Tel: 08701 188088.
- Donor Conception Network. A national support group for people who have conceived through donation and those considering it. They can give you advice and support and also the chance to meet parents with donor-conceived children. Call 020 8245 4369.
- National Gamete Donation Trust. A national government-funded charity set up to raise awareness of and seek ways to alleviate the national shortage of sperm, egg and embryo donors. It provides useful publications for donors and recipients including information on donation and the law. Helpline call 0845 226 9193.
- Fertility Friends. An online information and support website for those undergoing fertility treatment.
Comment on Witnessing
We are all very aware there have been IVF mix-ups in other clinics in the UK and across the world. Cambridge IVF has taken every step possible to minimise the risk of mix up occurring here. In addition to stringent checking and procedural controls being in place, we have invested in an electronic system called RI Witness which prevents the mixing of sperm and eggs from different patients or the transfer of the incorrect embryos in your cycle. We are not saying we are likely to have made a mistake without it, this could not be further from the truth but we do believe in making our processes as safe and risk free as possible and we believe that RI Witness ensures this.
We hope you have found this booklet informative and interesting. We realise we may not have covered all of your questions so if you do have any other queries we are here to help so please contact us via any of the means below:
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Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge
Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151