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How Does A Sperm Bank Work

by Lyndon Langley
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How Does A Sperm Bank Work

How Does A Sperm Bank Work

The average man ejaculates three to four times per week. The male reproductive organ contains millions of sperm that can fertilize an egg if the right conditions are met. Sperm banks were established as part of efforts to make sure these sperm are available for use at any time. Although men have been donating sperm since the 1930s, it wasn’t until 1977 that the first sperm bank opened its doors. Today there are more than 2,000 sperm banks across the United States.
Semen samples are collected through masturbation or by having the donor insert his penis into a condom attached to a plastic collection cup. Men who donate sperm must be over 18 years old with no known health problems. They also need to abstain from alcohol and drugs for 24 hours before giving a semen sample and for two weeks after donation. Those willing to participate in the program are screened for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Donors are asked questions about family medical history, current medications and recreational drug usage. In addition, donors undergo a physical exam and provide blood and urine samples. These tests help determine how healthy the donor’s body is overall. It also helps ensure that he has not had contact with someone infected with one of the many STDs.
After the screening process, men are given a private room where they deposit their sample into a sterile container. This container is called a cryotube — basically a glass vial with some special features. First, the tube is filled with liquid nitrogen vapor so that when the lid is sealed on top of it, the temperature inside will remain below freezing point. Second, the sides of the tube are coated with glycerin to prevent the sample from sticking together. Third, the bottom of each tube is covered with paraffin wax to keep out bacteria and other unwanted organisms. Finally, a small hole is drilled near the center of the cap to allow the liquid nitrogen vapors to circulate freely within the tube.
Once the sample reaches the sperm bank, it’s tested to see whether it meets bank standards. If it does, technicians transfer the sample to freezers. There are three types of freezers: liquid nitrogen (the most common), dry ice and refrigerated air-conditioned storage freezers. The tubes containing semen are placed in racks that sit above the freezers. Usually, a technician will take them down every few days and test them again. After a certain amount of time passes, the samples are moved to another freezer because they’ve lost too much viability. When this happens, the original samples are returned to the donor for possible future use.
If you’re wondering how all those tubes stacked up against your head, read on to find out what else goes on behind closed doors in a sperm bank.
Donor Services
Storage And Preparation Of Samples
Quality Control Testing
Clients And Their Rights

Donor Services
While sperm banks may seem like mysterious places full of secrets, they actually operate quite openly. Most of the services offered are pretty basic. For example, donors are required to fill out forms detailing their personal information, education level, occupation and family medical history. Donors also sign contracts stating that they understand what’s going to happen during the donation process.
In return, donors receive swag bags and certificates commemorating their donations. Some banks even offer incentives such as T-shirts and hats emblazoned with logos from their favorite sports teams. Many banks allow donors to choose which gifts they want. However, the majority of people prefer the anonymity associated with anonymous donations.
Most donated sperm is stored in liquid nitrogen tanks. Only 1 percent of the samples is sent immediately to clients. The rest get put aside for later use. Storage costs vary depending upon location but generally range between $50 and $75 a month.
When deciding whether to become a client, potential parents should check the number of children already born to the donor. Ideally, the couple would like to know the donor personally, especially if the father contributed genetically to the child. Clients can decide to store their own samples or simply request samples from donors whose details match their profile.
To prepare samples for use, they go through several processing steps. First, they are washed and spun down in preparation for testing. Next, they are evaluated based on concentration and motility. Motility refers to the ability of the sperm to move toward the cervix. Concentration is measured by dividing the total number of sperm counted into a particular volume. Then the samples are packaged according to their characteristics. Samples considered good quality are labeled accordingly. Finally, the samples are kept in containers to maintain sterility. Each day, staff members review the labels and adjust accordingly.
Read on to learn what happens next once the sperm arrive at a client’s home.
Storage And Preparation Of Samples
Once the samples reach the clinic, technicians place them in individual containers sealed under nitrogen gas. The containers are marked with the donor’s name and address. From there, the samples travel via FedEx overnight express service. Upon arrival, the packages are inspected for damage and signed for by the recipient.
For patients who live close enough to the clinic, samples are delivered directly to the patient’s house. For others, samples are shipped via courier companies such as UPS and DHL. All shipping fees are paid by the recipients.
Next we’ll look at what goes on at a sperm bank quality control lab.
Quality Control Testing
Before sending the donor’s sample off to clients, clinics perform quality control (QC) testing. QC tests are performed to ensure the facility adheres to procedures and that donors meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both internal and external QC testing is done regularly. Internal QC testing checks the efficiency of laboratory equipment and processes. External QC testing evaluates the quality of samples being processed.
Sample evaluation begins with a preliminary assessment. During this step, technicians examine the appearance, consistency and color of the specimen. Next, they evaluate the percentage of normal cells in the sample. Normal cells refer to nonmotile and immotile sperm as well as other cell debris. The final step involves evaluating the percentage of motile sperm. The FDA requires that donor specimens contain 30 million or more viable sperm per milliliter with at least 40 percent moving forward.
During both internal and external QC testing, samples are divided into aliquots. Aliquots are portions taken from large batches. Smaller groups are also selected for analysis. Once the samples have passed QC testing, they are packaged and ready to send off to clients.
Now let’s talk about the rights of sperm donors and clients.
As mentioned earlier, only 1 percent of the sperm samples are transferred immediately to clients. The remaining 99 percent are reserved for later use. Generally, donors wait six months after their donation before getting involved with conception attempts. That way, the sperm won’t expire during the waiting period. Also, donating sperm doesn’t guarantee success in conceiving. Donors aren’t expected to bear responsibility for the outcome of fertility treatments.
Clients, however, are responsible for any expenses related to treatment. Fees vary depending on the type of treatment. Typically, IVF treatments cost more than IUI procedures. Patients pay for transportation, consultation visits and medication.
On the next page, we’ll discuss clients’ rights.
Clients And Their Rights
Because conception relies heavily on the genetic contribution of a parent, couples interested in becoming pregnant usually visit a doctor for advice. If they decide to pursue assisted reproduction technology (ART), they’ll consult with a licensed professional.
Inevitably, ART raises legal issues involving donors and recipients. To protect donors, the National Society for Human Reproduction maintains a list of sperm banks accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). Accreditation ensures compliance with federal guidelines and regulations. Clients wishing to procure sperm from a bank without AATB accreditation can do so provided the bank agrees to abide by specific rules.
Some states require donors to disclose pertinent information about themselves before providing a sample. Other states require disclosure only for donors older than age 35. Additionally, donors may decline participation in the program altogether. As long as donors comply with state laws, they retain the right to refuse to give consent or withdraw their samples at any time.
Although donors don’t typically contribute financially to the procedure, they are allowed to attend consultations and counseling sessions. Some banks encourage donors to complete educational programs to improve their chances of fatherhood.
It’s important to note that donors can still end up contributing genetically to offspring conceived through ART. For example, if the mother uses donor sperm to conceive naturally, she could pass along traits to her baby that come from the donor instead of the biological mother.
That said, most experts agree that it’s best to avoid situations where donors might transmit genetic disorders to offspring. Donors are often screened for communicable diseases and encouraged to practice safe sex. However, it’s impossible to screen for everything. One 2002 study found that among 4,600 pregnancies resulting from donor sperm, nine babies suffered birth defects. So while the risk isn’t great, it can never be completely eliminated.

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