Sperm Bank - Artificial Insemination and Childbirth History
Artificial insemination (AI) and the harvesting of sperm doesn't have a long timeline in the history of childbirth. AI was discovered in the 1700s but it wasn't until 1953 that the first confirmed human pregnancy from this process was recorded. Here's a brief look at the discovery of sperm (a crucial element in artificial insemination), and the history of AI and sperm banks.
The Discovery of Sperm
The story of the discovery of sperm begins with Dutch tradesman and scientist Anton Leeuwenhoek. Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) created a homemade microscope out of a single lens that magnified items under it 300 times. For reasons not recorded in history, he decided to examine his own sperm under this microscope. He discovered there were millions of miniscule "creatures" vigorously swimming in it and called these creatures spermatozoa, which literally means "sperm animals."
In a desire to share his discovery with a wider scientific community, Leewenhoek sent a letter to the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, a still-existing society founded in 1660 for the promotion of scientific knowledge. The topic was controversial for the time and the scientist coyly acknowledged this in his submission to the society. He assured the learned members that the samples were collected after intercourse and not through the "sinful defiling" of masturbation. The Royal Society saw fit to publish his studies although some of his colleagues were certain that what he had seen were parasites. These studies were the foundation for future reproductive studies.
The Beginning of Artificial Insemination
In 1780 Italian priest turned scientist Lazzaro Spallanzani experimented on frogs by first watching their mating techniques and then conducting experiments on them. He made oilskin trousers for the male frogs so that the semen wouldn't reach the released eggs during mating. He discovered that the frogs still grasped the females during mating, even while wearing the cumbersome pants, but couldn't fertilize the eggs because the oilskin trousers got in the way. He then collected the frog sperm from the trousers and applied it to the female eggs. The frog eggs developed. Inspired, Spallanzani used this newfound knowledge to successfully artificially inseminate a cocker spaniel. The dog went on the give birth to three puppies.
For the next 150 years scientists continued to study AI and made enough advances in the procedure that by 1937 it had been perfected enough to regularly artificially inseminate cows. No attempt at human artificial insemination began until after scientists perfected how to make sperm last more than 30 minutes an hour after ejaculation.
The Beginnings of Sperm Banks
In 1949 scientists developed a way to freeze and thaw sperm which ultimately led to the first sperm banks. Dr. Polge of England discovered that glycerol would protect bird and bull sperm from being destroyed during freezing. The frozen sperm could be successfully stored in -79º C with dry ice and alcohol and still be viable for future use. Later liquid nitrogen was used as a coolant because it could reach temperatures of -196º C creating the opportunity for longer storage. The first successful animal pregnancy from frozen, stored sperm was reported in 1953. Human sperm banks didn't start until the 1970s along with the study of invitro fertilization. In 1978 the first full term human baby conceived from artificial insemination (called assisted reproduction when referring to humans) was born in the England.
A Look at Sperms Banks
Considered controversial by many people, modern sperm banks collect specimens from sperm donors for a specified contractual period of time. The man must meet specific requirements set out by the sperm bank and the semen is washed from the sperm before it's frozen for future use.
Often a sperm bank pays donors and the sperm bank money the establishment puts out for each donor varies depending on country or state. It's often roughly around $50 per donation. In some countries anonymous or even paid sperm donation has been banned which ended up causing a significant drop in the number of donors in these countries. For example, Sweden banned anonymous sperm donations in 1980 and the United Kingdom followed in 2005. In Canada it's illegal for donors to be paid for their sperm, possibly to reduce sperm bank costs and because of ethical concerns.
These restrictions have started what has loosely been called fertility tourism. This is where people (most often women) go to other countries for artificial insemination from an anonymous sperm donor.