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High-tech, foolproof screen for effective insemination

Calcuttans, shaken by the news of a 35-year-old woman acquiring human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) after being artificially inseminated at infertility clinics, can take heart. The city is set to get a hi-tech cryobank, where processed sperm samples will be available for insemination through one of the most advanced and foolproof techniques. This will eliminate risks of HIV contamination, gonorrhoea or syphilis, among others, say doctors.

City-based infertility expert Rajeev Agarwal, along with a diagnostics centre called Pulse, is setting up the bank in Calcutta. The majority of the 1,000-odd infertility clinics in Calcutta use samples taken from donors, mostly rickshaw-pullers and coolies, on payment of Rs 50 per sample. Normally, donors, who are properly screened, are paid anything between Rs 200 and Rs 350 and are registered with the centre.

“To ensure quality, we have decided to take in only medical students as donors. This will at least ensure that the donor is there for us to screen for three to five years. We will also have him and the samples registered to eliminate any problems of tracing him if required,” says Agarwal.

What will make the cryobank stand out is its use of a foolproof technique, known as the IUI (intra-uterine insemination) ready sample, which involves passing the semen sample through a high-density gradient to remove dead or abnormal pus cells and bacteria from the semen sample to get a pellet of only fertile and healthy sperms. “A pellet of the best possible sperms is formed at the bottom of the test tube when the semen sample is centrifuged,” says Agarwal.

To make the process even safer, the semen is again washed and centrifuged to get the purest pellet (sperms). The pellet is added with cryoprotectants (glycerol-based solutions) and then frozen in a jar of liquid nitrogen (-196 degree Centigrade) for a minimum period of six months. After six months, the sample is taken out and the donor is again screened for HIV and other diseases. If the person tests negative, the sample is made ready for use at infertility centres. “This technique of processing, used for the IUI, ensures that only the strongest and the purest semen sample is used for insemination,” director of Pulse Diagnostics Sunayana Bihani said.

In the conventional technique, used by the few reputed fertility clinics in Calcutta, the semen sample is collected and immediately cryopreserved for six months, before it is taken out and processed after testing the donor for HIV.

Other than reasons of safety, the method also has registered a higher pregnancy rate. According to a recent survey conducted by the US-based Oregon Health Sciences University, “36 per cent of the insemination cycles resulted in pregnancy in women who received IUI-ready sperm preparations, whereas only 19.6 per cent became pregnant following the conventional cryopreserved sperm.”

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