Accordingly, huge numbers of the eggs and embryos - some of which have been put away for a considerable length of time - may never again be feasible, Patti DePompei, president, UH MacDonald Women's Hospital and UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital revealed to NBC News. Some samples that were unfrozen for scheduled procedures this week were not viable.
There appears to have been an equipment failure at a long-term storage tank containing liquid nitrogen at the University Hospitals Fertility Center, NBC News reported. Eggs and embryos are stored for a multitude of reasons, including women freezing their eggs while young to aid fertility, people undergoing IVF or fertility treatments, and those who underwent egg removal or embryo fertilization prior to cancer treatment or other medical procedures.
University Hospitals does not know how or why the temperature fluctuated, and has launched an investigation to determine exactly what happened, it said in a statement Thursday.
"It's devastating", DePompei told WKYC.
The typical process of storage or freezing of the eggs involves an extraction of the eggs from a woman after which it is stored in liquid nitrogen tanks in a cryogenic facility.
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Some of the samples date to the 1980s, said Dr. James Liu, head of the hospital's obstetrics and gynecology department.
Employees were alerted to the problem by an alarm when they arrived for work Sunday morning.
Each vile contained two to three eggs or embryos from each patient. "We are committed to getting answers and working with patients individually to address their concerns", University Hospitals said in a statement.
The eggs and embryos have been moved to a different cryotank in the meantime, but their viability remains questionable. None of the eggs or embryos will be destroyed, WKYC reported, and University Hospitals has reported the incident to federal regulators.
"We are so very sorry this happened and we want to do all that we can to support our patients and families through this very hard time", DePompei said. Sean Tipton, chief policy officer at ASRM expressed his sympathy for the affected families and said the organization would look into the matter ensuring this is not repeated.