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10 November 2005
Sperm Banks In UK Running Low On Deposits
by George Atkinson

Sperm banks in the United Kingdom are running low on deposits, with experts saying the problem stems from attracting suitable donors. In the past, the majority of donors were students, but this now seems to be changing thanks to new laws that remove anonymity from the donor. A UK fertility centre study has found that the numbers of men - especially students - coming forward as potential donors fell sharply after 2000, almost certainly due to growing awareness that changes in the law would be removing the right to anonymity.

The decreasing number of donors has reached crisis point, say researchers from the Newcastle Fertility Centre, who have called for urgent action to attract more donors - particularly older men - and for clarification on the use of donor information to allay donor fears.

The results of the study, appearing in the journal Human Reproduction, indicate that nearly two thirds of potential donors are rejected because of sub-optimal semen quality. As well as the high rejection rate due to quality problems, the number of potential donors has been trending downwards since 2000, due, the researchers believe, to the removal of anonymity.

As well as declining donor numbers, the researchers say that demand for donated sperm will almost surely increase. "The demand for donor sperm is likely to increase because of a possible decline in the semen quality in the general UK population," said researcher Dr Sudipta Paul. The worrying gap between supply and demand has led the study's author, Dr Jane Stewart, to call for a change of tactics in recruiting donors.

"It is difficult and costly to recruit sperm donors. With the change in the anonymity rules coming we saw a sharp fall in numbers and a change in the profile of the applicants, perhaps reflecting the attitudes of different groups to anonymity. We need to get to the right groups, including minority ethnic groups, and inspire them to act," said Stewart. "It is clear now that we can recruit only donors willing to be identified [and] that we need to change our strategies to target older men in established relationships. Since it appears they are likely to offer help for altruistic purposes, we must continue to work to increase public knowledge of the need for donors up to the age of 40."

As well as improving donor recruitment, the clinic is also reviewing its standards for semen quality. But reducing these quality criteria may also reduce conception success rates, which would compound the problem and potentially disappoint sperm recipients. It's possible that multiple donations may increase acceptability rates, but a man who has variable donations may not always produce semen suitable for freezing. And this would increase the number of ejaculations required, making the whole process more expensive.

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