After clinic debacle, new technology helps protect frozen eggs and embryos

New technology to protect frozen embryos

After the heartbreaking loss of thousands of eggs and embryos at an Ohio clinic earlier this year, a fertility center in New York is revealing a new measure to protect the genetic material. Research out Tuesday shows how the Columbia University Fertility Center determined that monitoring the weight of storage tanks could provide better security than just measuring their temperature.

Amber and Elliott Ash told CBS News' Meg Oliver they discussed the fact that they both wanted to start a family on their very first date. After getting married in 2013, they eventually turned to IVF using sperm Elliott froze during a battle with bone cancer in his 20s. The Ashes now have a three-year-old son named Ethan.

They say it was always their goal to give Ethan a biological sibling, but in March that became unattainable when the Ashes learned their embryos were damaged in a tank malfunction at a Cleveland area fertility clinic.  
 
"We don't have those embryos anymore, we lost those chances," Elliot said.
 
In a March 8 statement, University Hospitals said the tank experienced an "unexpected temperature fluctuation" and apologized for the incident. Less than three weeks later, they sent a letter to patients impacted by the malfunction claiming the "alarm system on the tank" designed to flag temperature changes "was off."

"That event was a big wake up call to all of us," said Dr. Zev Williams, chief of infertility at Columbia University Fertility Center.

Shortly after the incident in Cleveland, doctors at Columbia University Fertility Center in New York started developing an additional layer of security for their fertilization tanks.
 
"We have the tank with the temperature probe and the manual checks just like every other tank. In addition – underneath each of the tanks is a special scale that is continuously monitoring the weight of the tank," Williams explained.

A study from Columbia shows measuring the tank's weight can detect problems more efficiently than measuring its temperature. If the tank's nitrogen levels fall, the weight will rise, triggering an alarm.

Doctors at Columbia hope this new system will help patients like Dana Severini avoid the heartache suffered by the Ashes. The 36-year-old froze her eggs five years ago. She is now 14 weeks pregnant and has two more embryos stored at Columbia.
 
"It lets you have peace of mind that you do have a future," Severini said.  

The Ashes are part of a class action lawsuit against University Hospitals. University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center declined CBS News' most recent request for comment.