Samples destroyed at UF sperm bank

The anonymous donor bank is completely gone after a glitch caused the temperature in one of the storage facilities to rise.

Published September 4, 2006

GAINESVILLE - Thousands of sperm samples - including some being stored by men who feared they could become impotent - were destroyed when temperatures mistakenly rose in a University of Florida storage tank.

Dr. R. Stan Williams, chief of the university medical college's division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility said up to 60 of the frozen samples were from men - many undergoing cancer treatments - who banked their sperm in case they no longer could have children. But the vast majority of the samples at the UF Women's Health Center at Magnolia Parke were from anonymous donors for use by couples with fertility problems.

"Our anonymous donor sperm bank is essentially wiped out," Williams said.

UF health science center spokesman Tom Fortner said the mechanical failure dated to last October, when a faulty sensor on a nitrogen-filled tank apparently failed to alert workers that the temperature had risen to a level that jeopardized the sperm's viability.

Williams said officials thought they caught the problem in time until a vial was withdrawn two weeks ago and workers learned all of the samples were destroyed. He said the sperm was not checked at the time of the mechanical failure because the thawing process required would have made it useless anyway.

Certified letters have been sent to men whose samples were in storage and who did not have a backup vial in the center's other tank, Williams said. The facility said all samples deposited since late August 2005 were unaffected by the failure.

Williams said he hoped the situation wouldn't lead to litigation.

"We certainly hope not," he said, "but there's certainly that potential."