Twenty-seven years in the making! In 1992, an embryo was frozen and placed in a cryogenic freezer in the Midwest. It was in frigid hibernation for two decades.
In 2012, the frozen embryo was packed in a liquid nitrogen shipper and sent to an embryo adoption facility via FedEx, according to a report. In February, the embryo was thawed and transferred to the uterus of Tina Gibson, 29, who had been praying for a baby for five years. She gave birth to Molly Everette Gibson this October.
Research staff at the University of Tennessee Preston Medical Library said that “the longest-frozen embryo may have come to birth, setting a record”. The baby beats the record set by her older sister, Emma Wren Gibson who had come to life after being a frozen embryo for 24 years.
‘No such thing as too old embryos’
“Some couples discard their embryos or are unwilling to donate them because they say they’re too old… No, we don’t think there is such a thing as too old,” said Jeffrey Keenan, medical director of the Knoxville, Tennessee-based National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC).
The 29-year-old woman and her husband, Ben Gibson, first approached the NEDC in 2016 after searching for embryo adoption for months. Embryo adoption involves implanting in uterus leftover embryos from couples who pursue in vitro fertilisation. Tina said her parents first mentioned the idea to her while the couple was dropping off their dogs with them before a vacation. At first, the Gibsons brushed off the possibility as they were interested in “traditional” adoption.
But the couple’s drive to their vacation spot was long, and they could not stop thinking about it. So, three months later, Tina said they were tired of mulling it over and decided to go ahead with the embryo adoption. The NEDC soon transferred to her the 24-year-old embryo that became Emma — then a record for the longest-frozen embryo to lead to a birth.
The baby, Molly Everette Gibson, beats the record set by her older sister, Emma Wren Gibson (in photo), who had come to life on November 25, 2017, after being a frozen embryo for 24 years. (Photo: AFP)
“Once it hit the news with Emma Wren Gibson, that was the first time it hit us that maybe this was a big deal,” said Tina, who lives in Knoxville. When she and her husband, 36, wanted another child in 2020, the NEDC transferred to her uterus two thawed embryos, both of which were Emma’s genetic siblings. One survived, and Tina learned that she was pregnant days before the declaration of the coronavirus pandemic in March that led Tennessee to shut down most of the state’s businesses.
Molly was born nine months later, weighing six pounds, 13 ounces, and measuring 19 inches. “She’s been the light of every day in 2020… The one thing to look forward to when everything seems to be falling apart around you,” Tina added.
‘We will break this record’
Roughly 78,000 infants born in 2017 — or 1.7 per cent of all infants born each year — were conceived with the help of assisted reproductive technology, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Embryo adoptions account for only about 5 per cent of those babies. About half of transfers performed by the NEDC result in live births,” Keenan said.
While there is no reason to think there is an age past which an embryo will not be viable, he said freezing techniques used before about a decade ago were less reliable. But if an older embryo survives being thawed, Keenan thinks it has as good a chance of implanting as any other embryo.
It is not certain that the 27-year-old embryo that became Molly is a record. Zaher Merhi, director of IVF research and development at New Hope Fertility Center, told CNN in 2017 that US companies do not have to report to the government the age of an embryo they transplant. In any case, Keenan said he Is confident that the 27-year-old embryo will not be the oldest ever brought to a live birth.
“We will break this record,” he said. “There’s no question about that.”