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Sperm donation

Details the screening that potential sperm donors must first undergo in sperm donation.

Screening of sperm donors

Male sperm donors must be screened.

All prospective sperm donors both known and anonymous should be screened for infectious and genetic diseases according to current guidelines. The aims of the screening tests are twofold: to protect the recipient of donor sperm, from acquiring an infection from the donor; and to protect any donor-conceived baby from being born with an infection or a serious inheritable disorder from the donor.

Potential donors should be screened for: HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Cytomegalovirus, Syphilis, Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, Cystic fibrosis carrier and Karyotype, and HTLV (Human T cell lymphotropic viruses) (UK guidelines 2008, Human Fertility;11:201-210). The sperm donor’s blood group and Rhesus factor (Rh) will also be determined. In addition, in appropriate ethnic groups screening for sickle cell in black donors, thalassemia in Mediterranean and Indian subcontinent donors and Tay-Sachs disease in Jewish donors.

All donor sperm whether known or anonymous should be frozen and stored for a minimum period of six months (quarantined) so that a retesting for infectious diseases, in particular HIV can be carried out on the donor before the sperm is used. This is a recommendation of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).

It is essential to note that no screening program can be totally guaranteed, and there is always a small risk of infection and genetic disease. If all the screening tests are clear, the sperm donor is asked to produce about 24 semen samples (one or two per week). Each sample, is analysed and frozen if adequate.

How is sperm frozen?

The donor produces a semen sample by masturbation. After liquefaction, the semen is mixed with special culture medium to prevent the semen from being damaged during freezing. The mixture is then loaded into plastic straws. These are uniquely coded and sealed. Thereafter the straws are frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196 C and remains in storage until required.

A test freeze is carried out on the initial sample to check that the sperm has survived the freezing and thawing process. Both sperm count and motility will be reduced by the freezing process.

Both British Fertility Society and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines recommended that donated samples from all sperm donors should be quarantined for at least 180 days and the donor should be re-tested for at least HIV, hepatitis B & C, CMG and syphilis prior to release. And only semen that had been frozen for more than 180 days at the time of re-testing should be released for clinical use.

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