Australian researchers have announced progress in an attempt to safely freeze and store human eggs for later fertilizations.

In order to help couples suffering from sexual disabilities, researchers have been trying to isolate each part of conception into a separately controlled step. Sperm can now be gathered and safely stored for years. Frozen or fresh sperm can be united in conception in glass dishes. Eggs can be overproduced using fertility drugs, then harvested. The embryo resulting from in vitro fertilization can be stored frozen, then implanted to produce a normal pregnancy and birth.

But one step not yet complete is the safe freezing of eggs and subsequent fertilization to produce a normal pregnancy. Alan Trounson of Monash University reported at an in vitro fertilization conference recently that he had successfully frozen eggs without apparent damage, and successfully fertilized them with sperm. The biggest step, announcing a successful pregnancy from the procedure, has not yet been claimed.

Freezing eggs can be important in fertility work for several reasons. A woman could safely preserve her eggs if, for instance, she were about to undergo a medical procedure that would take her ovary or irradiate the eggs. If she were single, the eggs could be fertilized after her marriage; if married, she could hold the eggs unfertilized if she had not yet decided to have a child.

For doctors, there is a political dimension to the egg-freezing research, since the freezing of embryos has brought protests from persons who believe life begins at conception.