Failure of liquid nitrogen storage tanks at two major infertility centers has led to a review of procedures at those and other similar facilities by them and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). A least three lawsuits—one a federal class action—also have been filed by women whose eggs or embryos might have been damaged.
The first incident occurred on March 4 at University Hospitals Fertility Center in Cleveland. A statement issued by the Center said that it involved “an unexpected temperature fluctuation with the tissue storage bank where eggs and embryos are stored in liquid nitrogen.” An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the event. The Center reportedly had notified 700 patients that their eggs or embryos may have been damaged before a judge this week issued an order barring the facility from continuing to make such contact.
A similar incident also occurred on March 4 at Pacific Fertility Clinic in San Francisco. The failure was in storage tank No. 4 and the Clinic is said to have notified 400 patients whose eggs and embryos were stored there. That incident, which is also being investigated, was reported to the College of American Pathologists, which certifies laboratories.
The first lawsuit to arise because of the tank failure in Cleveland was filed by an Ohio couple. A Pennsylvania couple filed the second lawsuit, also against University Hospitals Fertility Center. In California, a class-action lawsuit was filed by a woman whose eggs were stored at Pacific Fertility Center.
In a statement issued after the incident in California, ASRM characterized the situation as “two major failures, apparently of equipment, redundancy and warnings, which have led to some tissue loss, though the extent of that loss is not yet fully determined.” The organization also noted that “cryopreservation and subsequent use of reproductive tissue is a technology that has been used reliably for years around the world.” To help members prevent other such incidents, ASRM is gathering its leadership and leading experts to review the facts and make recommendations to members and their patients.
In 2016, ASRM issued a committee opinion about emergency planning for in vitro fertilization programs. Making a reasonable effort to maintain a stable cryoenvironment for cryopreserved oocytes, embryos, sperm, and other human tissue is among the recommendations in the document. After an emergency such as a hurricane, rising flood waters, or a severe snowstorm and when safe to do so, ASRM says efforts should be made to “replenish the nitrogen in the tanks containing the reproductive tissue.” The document does not make mention of equipment malfunctions.