Pioneering science labs keep Sheffield couples’ baby hopes alive

Feature on the Jessop fertility unit at The Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Pictured is Clinical Embryologist Omonigho Arenrin.

Feature on the Jessop fertility unit at The Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Pictured is Clinical Embryologist Omonigho Arenrin.

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Down a maze of corridors in Sheffield’s Jessop Fertility is a room full of futuristic vessels containing thousands of tiny embryos.

The barrel-like containers, shrouded in a mist of liquid nitrogen, are a lifeline - literally - for locals who may be struggling to have a baby.

Whether it is prospective parents with fertility problems, or a cancer patient awaiting treatment, this high-tech equipment will keep embryos, eggs and sperm safely frozen at about -196C for as long as 55 years.

The storage facility is just one feature of the lab at Jessop Fertility which brings hope to thousands of couples in the region who turn to alternative methods when they have trouble conceiving.

As part of Healthcare Science Week, which runs until tomorrow, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals have been showcasing some of the work which is carried out by scientists - often behind the scenes - to complement the work of doctors and nurses.

Principal embryologist Rachel Cutting is one such scientist. Although much of her work is completed behind a computer or in the lab, she still has contact with patients to discuss how their embryos are developing.

She said: “Fertility problems are becoming more and more common, with one in six couples estimated to have difficulty conceiving.

“I can’t describe the feeling when after all your hard work the patient has a positive pregnancy test. Even after 20 years I still feel happy.”

Some 1,500 people attend Jessop Fertility every year and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals has invested heavily to make sure the labs in the unit are at the forefront of technology.

Among the advanced pieces of kit is a time-lapse imaging facility, which reveals the amazing structural cell changes an embryo undergoes within the first five days of its life.

Embryologist Omonigho Arenrin said: “In the past, we basically had to pick which embryo was the ‘best-looking’. These days we can make a much better judgement about which embryo will have the best chance of developing into a healthy baby.”

The labs provide a full spectrum of assisted conception techniques such as treatment with donor egg and sperm and using spare frozen embryos for future treatment after IVF.

n For more information about the treatments and facilities available visit

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