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Historical Background

Insemination and cryopreservation - historical background

ArrowInsemination - historical background
ArrowCryopreservation - historical background

Artificial insemination by transfer of sperm is a very "old" method. The development of modern reproductive medicine has triggered the development of long-term cell preservation techniques - cryopreservation. Let's take a look back to the first recognisable attempts to use artificial methods to bring about reproduction and the spread of these methods around the world, despite influential opponents.


Insemination - Historical Background

Experiments with 'small animals'

The Italian doctor and scientist Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-99) demonstrated that new life can develop not only by means of "actual" sexual intercourse, but also by introducing material secreted from the sex organs of a male animal into a female animal. He performed successful experiments in this area on dogs and frogs. However, he still did not fully understand the special significance of the 'small creatures' (spermatozoa) found in this secretion.

1790 - successful 'homologous insemination'

The first written account of successful sperm implantation (insemination) comes from the English physician Dr. John Hunter in 1790. He transferred (inseminated) the ejaculate from a man suffering from hypospadia (a condition in which the opening of the urethra is located on the underside of the shaft of the penis) to the man's wife. This was thus the first known case of what is known as "homologous insemination".

After this success, this method spread rapidly in the first half of the 19th century and was used both for this and for other diagnoses.

1884 - successful 'donor insemination'

The first reported 'donor insemination', in other words, using the sperm from another man, was performed in 1884 by Dr. William Pancoast of Jefferson Medical College in the USA. He helped a married couple after the husband had become infertile due to a sexually transmitted disease. He accomplished this by inseminating the woman, who had to that point of her marriage remained childless, with the semen of a medical student.

Worldwide spread and opponents

The worldwide increase in the use of insemination treatments for infertility occurred despite opposition in society and, particularly, from religious institutions. After all, the sperm had to be obtained by masturbation. Furthermore, the use of ejaculate from another man ultimately ran counter to all moral standards (see Vatican: Donum vitae 1987, Evangelium vitae 1995).

Homologous insemination is today at least more or less tolerated by the church. However, donor insemination continues to be frowned upon.

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Cryopreservation - Historical Background

Insemination has been practiced for many decades in veterinary medicine and livestock breeding. However, how should insemination be performed if the sperm from the male animal could not be transferred fresh to the female animal, e.g. for geographical reasons when breeding pedigree animals?

Thanks to a chance observation made many years previously, a technique was developed to freeze sperm (Cryopreservation: from the Greek,
kryo= cool and konservare = preserve).

First experiences from veterinary medicine

The first experiences date from 1949 and come from the use of freezing for preservation in pig breeding.

First sperm banks

The results in the field of veterinary medicine were followed, as was to be expected, by the use of the technique in humans.

The first sperm banks were established in the USA in 1960 (Jerome Sherman).

End of a ban

Since the ban on donor insemination (DI) was lifted in most countries around the world, there are now hundreds of sperm banks of various sizes.

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