2010 Freezing Ovaries

FREEZING OVARIES
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You freeze your stud dog’s semen, why not freeze your bitch’s ovaries? Although freezing ovaries is no harder than freezing semen, you won’t be getting puppies anytime soon. Why hasn’t there been the type of progress in canine reproduction as there has been in cattle, horses, sheep, goats and humans? The biggest reason may reside in the lack of research funding. And why is there no funding that would allow ethical dog breeders to have the same reproductive control? In a nutshell, the problem is threefold: 1) canine reproductive physiology, 2) today’s emphasis on controlling animal population, and 3) insufficient research interest.

Canine reproduction in the bitch is exceedingly difficult. The ovaries in a bitch contain immature eggs, not mature eggs ready for fertilization like you would see in other species. And that is the problem, immature eggs. When released from the ovary, the eggs mature in the oviduct over a 72-hour period. Following maturation, the eggs in the fallopian tubes are fertilized by sperm. At the present, researchers have not been able to develop a methodology for successfully maturing the ova in a Petri dish in preparation for fertilization. The few veterinary research centers that have engaged in canine reproduction with the emphasis on the ovaries have had little success in obtaining consistent funding to back this research endeavor. Developing this technology will be difficult but not impossible.

Currently Dr. Barbara Durrant at the San Diego Zoo has been developing an endangered canid species program, which engages in freezing semen and ovaries of endangered canids. However, Dr. Durrant is looking towards the future, keeping specimens for the day when the technology will be available to make live births possible.

This brings us to the second and third point, the emphasis on spay/neuter and reproductive research. It is almost impossible not to link these two points together when discussing reproduction. Dr. Al Grossman in an article for Canine Chronicle has perhaps said it best, “We are at war!” Dr. Grossman reflects that advocates of limiting canine reproduction have grievously attacked and seriously wounded the purebred dog community. Organizations involved in lobbying for reproductive control of canines have become embolden by their legislative success regulating mandatory spay/neuter laws throughout some of our largest cities to smallest towns. This has made it increasingly difficult for researchers to obtain funding when there has been such a push for spay/neuter.

So while there is not a method for producing puppies from frozen ovaries, the point of this article is to prepare and anticipate the day when technology advances to provide us with those little four-legged bundles of joy. While many of us go to great efforts to collect and store our stud dogs, shouldn’t we be doing the same for our bitches?

By Dr. Michelle Raisor, Ph.d

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