A national sperm bank set up by a £77,000 grant from the UK's Department of Health has now opened for business.
Based at the Birmingham Women's Hospital and operating in collaboration with the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT), the sperm bank aims to combat the lack of availability of UK-based sperm donors for people undergoing fertility treatment using donated sperm. It will be available to both private and NHS-funded patients.
The launch coincides with the publication of data on egg and sperm donation produced by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which analyses trends in egg and sperm donation after new limits for donor compensation were introduced in April 2012 as part of a drive to improve numbers of registered gamete donors. The report shows that in 2013 just under one in ten cycles of fresh IVF used donated gametes, with almost one third of patients using donated gametes being same-sex couples or single women.
Although the annual number of newly registered sperm donors continues to increase (with a slight fall in 2013), there remains high demand for sperm and a perceived shortage of available sperm donated in the UK (see BioNews 766). Dr Sue Avery, director of Birmingham Women's Fertility Centre, said, 'Patient numbers continue to rise and treating those who need donor sperm to build their families is a major problem. At present, some patients needing donor sperm are faced with few safe options and find themselves on waiting lists of up to five years or having to stop treatment altogether.'
This may have contributed to a continued increase in the amount of imported sperm, which now accounts for almost a third of new registrations. The UK saw almost 200 imported donations of sperm in 2013, most of which came from the USA and Denmark.
Dr Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said: 'without being xenophobic it kind of just doesn't feel right, it's a problem that's not going away'. The HFEA report highlights that the cost, time and resources required to recruit donors were given as reasons for importing sperm by some clinics.
The report also states that some clinics said it could be difficult to obtain non-Caucasian donors. Around three quarters of UK new donor registers between 2009 and 2013 identified themselves as 'white British'.
'There is currently a national shortage of sperm donors in the UK, especially in NHS clinics and particularly among some ethnic minorities,' said Dr Avery. The location of the sperm bank was partly chosen for its ethnically diverse population.
The national sperm bank also aims to change public attitudes towards sperm donation. Laura Witjens of the NGDT explained: 'Sperm donors are very special men who are doing something they and their families can be exceptionally proud of. These are men who are doing something life-changing for themselves and for others. It's time to shout about how fantastic these guys are.'