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‘Devastating’ fault at London clinic may have damaged eggs of more than 100 women

Patients have only recently been told their eggs and embryos may not survive the thawing process if they were frozen with the faulty solution

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More than 100 women who had their eggs frozen at a leading NHS clinic have been told that they may have been damaged due to a fault in the freezing process.

The assisted conception unit at Guy’s hospital in London said it may have inadvertently used some bottles of a faulty freezing solution in September and October 2022. However, it said it did not know the liquid was defective at the time.

Many of the 136 women affected have subsequently had cancer treatment since having their eggs or embryos frozen, which may have left them infertile, The Times reported.

The patients have only recently been told their eggs and embryos may not survive the thawing process if they were frozen with the faulty solution.

The fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), is investigating.

It said a safety notice about the faulty freezing solution was issued by the authority to all clinics in February last year. However, this was several months after bottles from a faulty batch were used at Guy’s hospital’s assisted conception unit.

HFEA described the investigation at Guy’s hospital as “ongoing”, adding that it would take “any further action required”.

The regulator said that faulty egg-freezing products had also affected Jessop Fertility in Sheffield, but it said it was satisfied that Jessop “undertook a thorough investigation when they first became aware of the issue and contacted and supported any patient affected”.

“The HFEA can confirm that this issue is limited to two clinics in the UK: Guy’s and St Thomas’ Assisted Conception Unit, London and Jessop Fertility, Sheffield,” said Rachel Cutting, director of compliance and information at the HFEA, in a statement.

“Our ongoing investigation only relates to Guy’s as we are satisfied that Jessop’s undertook a thorough investigation when they first became aware of the issue and contacted and supported any patient affected.

“The company supplying the product directly to clinics will know exactly where it’s gone through their traceability processes. The company is also obliged to report any problems to the MHRA.”

“Any patients likely to have been affected will have been notified by their clinic. We hope this provides reassurance to anyone concerned.

“Fertility treatment in the UK is generally very safe. Our most recent report shows that out of the almost 100,000 treatment and storage cycles which took place in 2022/23, more than 99 per cent were conducted without any incidents occurring.”

Dr Piraye Yurttas Beim, researcher in molecular biology and embryology and founder of Celmatix, told Femtech World: “This is a reminder that the safest place for a woman’s eggs is in her own ovaries and not a freezer.

“Women lose their ovaries far too frequently due to a lack of diagnostics that would allow earlier detection of ovarian cancer and also due to ovarian damage from chemotherapy.

“Creating a new standard of care that protects ovarian function for women undergoing cancer treatment is a big focus for us at Celmatix. These stories are both heartbreaking and also a reminder of why we come to work everyday.”

Dr Cristina Hickman, a consultant clinical embryologist, lecturer at Imperial College London and co-founder of Ovom Care, said: “As an embryologist, I was devastated to learn of the unfortunate incident that has come to light at Guy’s hospital.

“Despite our best efforts to uphold the highest standards of care, incidents do occur, even if rarely. These errors, while rare, profoundly impact patients and the dedicated embryologists who strive to fulfil the shared goal of helping families conceive.

“It’s devastating news for those affected and they have our full support and we should wait to learn more from the professional team investigating this incident.

“But we must also recognise the tireless efforts of embryologists, who bear the weight of this responsibility and work diligently to maintain a low error rate.

“As fertility professionals, it’s our duty to utilise the most advanced tools available to minimise any risks that could affect our patients’ chances of having a baby. By embracing innovation and continually improving our practices, we can ensure that incidents like these become even rarer in the future.”

Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust (PET), commented: “It will be distressing for women with frozen eggs to learn that, due to problems outside their control, their eggs may not survive the thawing process.

 “When a woman freezes her eggs, time is of the essence. In all cases, the quality of eggs declines upon reaching a certain age. Additionally, in cases where women are freezing eggs for medical reasons – for example, imminent cancer treatment – they will not want their treatment to be delayed.

 “If women affected by this incident have undergone medical treatment which has compromised their fertility, then their opportunity to have a biologically related child may have been lost.

“If women affected by this incident had sought to extend their reproductive choices by freezing their eggs, then they too may have lost their best opportunity to have a family, if the quality of their eggs has declined during the period that has elapsed.”

She added: “We still do not know all the details of why this incident occurred. Hopefully, further details will be forthcoming. What does seem clear is that there was an appalling delay of around a year between this problem being known about, and affected patients being notified. Apparently, there are also some patients with frozen embryos who are similarly affected.

“We need to understand more about what precisely has gone wrong, and what the relevant regulators – including the HFEA and the MHRA – are doing about it. We also need reassurance, from regulators and clinics alike, that processes are in place to notify patients in a timely way when things go wrong.”

Becky Kearns, chief executive at Fertility Network UK, told Femtech World: “We are heartbroken to hear of the news that patients have potentially lost precious eggs and embryos.

“We want to reassure patients that incidents like this are extremely rare in the UK. We know that for many people, particularly those whose fertility has been impacted by cancer treatment, egg freezing can be a lifeline and can often be the difference between being able to have the family they have longed for.”

“As the national fertility charity, we urge anyone who may have been affected by this news, directly or indirectly, to please reach out to us for support. You are not alone.”

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Cleveland Clinic launches new women’s health and research center

The programme aims to address women’s unique health needs during midlife and beyond

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From left: Cleveland Clinic CEO and president Dr Tom Mihaljevic, Maria Shriver and Dr Beri Ridgeway / Source: clevelandclinic.org

Cleveland Clinic has launched its new Women’s Comprehensive Health and Research Center, an initiative dedicated to helping women during midlife.

The center, which will focus on access, connectivity, education and research and innovation, aims to empower women to navigate their health journey with confidence and clarity.

Maria Shriver, founder of The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention and Research Center at Cleveland Clinic, will serve as chief visionary and strategic advisor.

“I’ve always believed our nation needed a first-class comprehensive women’s health center, and now we have one,” said Shriver.

“Over the past several years, I’ve been honoured to work alongside so many talented and passionate doctors at Cleveland Clinic to bring this vision to life. This is a place for women at every stage of life where they will feel seen, will get the research they need, and the care they deserve, from their brains to their bones.

“I am thrilled that today the WAM Prevention and Research Center expands, as it deserves to.”

Dr Tom Mihaljevic, Cleveland Clinic CEO and president, said: “Maria’s unwavering commitment to raising awareness and driving meaningful change aligns perfectly with the mission of our new center.

“Her passion for advancing the quality of care for women is remarkable and will help us transform how we deliver care for women today and into the future.”

The population of women in midlife and in need of healthcare continues to grow. According to US Census Bureau 2020 data, more than 63 million women in the US are 50 years of age or older, and approximately 6,000 women enter menopause each day.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 80 per cent of women aged 55 and older have at least one chronic condition, such as arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes, which strengthens the need for more comprehensive medical care for women in this stage of life.

The new Women’s Comprehensive Health and Research Center will bring together specialty care in various areas, including behavioural health, breast health, cardiovascular care, center for infant and maternal health, endocrinology, menopause, osteoporosis and metabolic bone density, wellness and disease prevention.

Through initiatives focused on streamlining appointment processes, enhancing outreach programmes and prioritising health equity, the center will seek to ensure that all women can readily access the care they need.

“Midlife is an important milestone and a time to empower women to address health issues and focus on future health,” said Dr Beri Ridgeway, chief of staff at Cleveland Clinic.

“Taking a holistic approach, including menopausal and hormonal health, reproductive health, mental health, chronic conditions and preventive care, is critical to optimise health outcomes.

“Our priority is to help women in this stage of life make educated decisions about their health and have access to the services they need to thrive, while also feeling seen, heard and supported.”

The center, Ridgeway said, will offer support groups and resources to help address health disparities, reach diverse communities and bridge gaps in health literacy.

The institution’s ultimate mission, she explained, is to advance research and innovation specific to women during midlife.

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Firm secures US$1.9m grant to support women entrepreneurs in Africa

eha Impact Ventures aims to support women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises

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Evelyn Castle, chief executive officer at eHA Impact Ventures / Source: evelyncastle.com

The impact investing enterprise eHA Impact Ventures (EIV) has been awarded a US$1.9m grant from the non-profit organisation eHealth Africa (eHA) to support women entrepreneurs in Africa.

eHA’s board of directors approved the donation as part of its effort to “strengthen” healthcare delivery systems and support vulnerable populations.

The grant, the organisation said, will be deployed to “upscale” women-funded companies to improve the health and wealth of African women, their families and their communities.

The donation is hoped to address the US$42bn funding gap for women entrepreneurs in Africa and help female founders have better access to funding opportunities.

In addition, the funds are expected to support health interventions like the pre-screening of cervical cancer and improve delivery of blood and blood products to healthcare facilities.

“The grant will be instrumental in boosting the economic capacity of women across Africa by supporting high-impact women-owned businesses,” said Evelyn Castle, chief executive officer at EIV, who founded the firm in 2021.

“Furthermore, it will [help us] upscale funding, mentorship and training programmes to help women create thriving businesses that drive economic growth in their communities.”

My Le, board executive at eHealth Africa, said: “These donations could not have come at a better time as  women continue to struggle to meet up with both health and economic demands. Thus we are optimistic that the funds will go a mile in bridging fiscal gaps for women and other vulnerable groups to lead healthier lives.

“Supporting women will go a long way in not just improving their societal impact but also contribute immensely to sustainable development especially in the African region.”

Recognising women’s “vital” role in building strong health systems, Atef Fawaz, CEO of eHealth Africa, added: “We acknowledge the profound impact women have in strengthening healthcare systems, aligning with our vision at eHealth Africa.”

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Menstrual product wins innovation award in Switzerland

Egal’s innovation consists of a roll of pads that operates in a similar fashion to a toilet paper roll and comes in its own dispenser

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Penelope Finnie, chief executive officer at Egal

Pads on a Roll, a menstrual product that can be dispensed in public stalls similar to a toilet paper roll, has won a prestigious award at the Women’s Health Innovation Summit Europe in Basel. 

Each year the Women’s Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) helps promising start-ups raise their brand awareness and pitch their solutions in front of investors and industry leaders.

Egal, the company behind Pads on a Roll, has been honoured with this year’s Women’s Health Innovation award after the WHIS selection committee recognised the start-up as an innovative company poised to disrupt the European women’s health landscape.

“Egal Pads is so honoured to have been chosen for the Women’s Health Innovation award,” Penelope Finnie, Egal chief executive officer, told Femtech World.

“The other nine finalists were amazing companies run by wonderful people. The whole conference was a testament to the importance of the femtech movement.

“For us, it was particularly exciting as the EU is the next market we are focusing on. We hope that having period products available in stalls just like toilet paper is, will become the norm as it is necessary for equality.

“We also hope that by winning, it brings attention to this easily solved but long ignored issue,” Finnie added.

Egal’s innovation consists of a roll of pads that operates in a similar fashion to a toilet paper roll and comes in its own dispenser.

Egal aims to sell Pads on a Roll to universities and public schools

Each roll contains 40 pads and can be placed directly in stalls, unlike the typical tampon dispensers that often require money to access the products and are located outside the stall.

The pads are less expensive to maintain than products in vending machines because they are easier to refill, and require less space and packaging.

Research shows that 20 percent of girls in the US and UK have missed school due to lack of access to period products, with more than 90 per cent of menstruators having experienced jammed, broken or empty dispensers in public toilets.

Egal aims to solve this issue by selling Pads on a Roll to universities and public schools.

The Boston-based company has done pilots at various universities across the US and is hoping to develop a flushable version of the product in the future.

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