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Opinion: It can be hard to keep track of your eggs

Let's learn from the sperm bank mistake, and develop a global egg registry now to keep track of what's going on.

A doctor at the Alma Res fertility clinic in Rome works prepares eggs and sperm for an attempt at artificial insemination, June 7, 2005. Italians have been pushed to perfect egg freezing techniques because of strict limits on frozen embryos there. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

NEW YORK — The global human egg business is still in its infancy and there is one lesson the egg entrepreneurs should learn before it's too late: we need a global registry.

We never did it with sperm and now the sperm bank industry is too entrenched to change anything. But the egg industry is poised to take off and we should get it right this time around.

A global registry would track fresh egg trades and collect data on egg freezing techniques, as well as the health of the offspring. In essence, it would allow everyone to know what’s going on. Something that seems rather obvious.

Sperm has been traded fresh and frozen for years. The first reported case of a baby born from donor insemination goes back to 1909, but some say it was done secretly before that. The first baby from frozen sperm was born in 1953.

Sperm bankers do not have a registry. Instead each one has relied on customers calling them with results — the quantity of babies born, gender and health. Most clientele have so many other things on their mind by the time the baby is born, they forget to check in with the sperm salesman. The upshot is that we really do not know how many babies are born from each donor and where in the world these kids are.

The fresh egg business has been around for a few decades with younger women “donating” their eggs for a hefty price to women who do not have fertile ones. The donor takes hormone drugs and undergoes an invasive procedure. Needless to say, it is a much more cumbersome and pricey process than sperm donation, which only requires a bit of privacy and a few porn magazines.

Egg freezing is a much newer technique — still considered experimental by most major medical societies in the U.S. and Europe. For the most part, egg freezing is used by women who want to put their own eggs on ice for use later. Some women haven’t met the right man, or sperm donor. Others are undergoing chemotherapy and worry the drugs will damage their reproductive tract, so they want to get their healthy eggs out of their body for the time being.

No surprise, there is a for-profit company, Cryo Eggs International based in Indianapolis, that trades in frozen eggs.

Eggs are trickier to defrost than sperm and embryos because they are huge, fluid-filled and have lots of complicated machinery inside. One tiny ice crystal sneaking inside during the process damages the whole thing.