Amphibian cryo-preservation results from Cambridgeshire partnership

The successful production of state-of-the-art temperature controlled freezers used to ‘cryo-preserve’ frog and toad sperm is a result of collaboration between two Cambridgeshire companies.

The freezers, originally designed for the field of human IVF by biotechnology company, Asymptote Ltd, and manufactured by Shearline Precision Engineering, are set to create the first amphibian ‘frozen zoo’ in Memphis, USA.

Saving the amphibians for future generations could ensure that possible new medical treatments are not lost. Scientists have discovered that skin secretions from various species of frogs and toads could be used as a basis for treating a wide range of ailments, from heart attacks to Alzheimer’s. The skin secretions of one particular species of frog can provide a non-addictive painkiller 200 times as powerful as morphine.

Using Shearline’s renowned total manufacturing solution, particularly its milling, turning, fabrication and moulding skills, the freezer units were built on-site using initial designs from Asymptote. However, the production process was far from straightforward as a number of modifications and design improvements were made as the project developed.
First, electric fittings and fuses were re-positioned and tailored to help functionality and a new bracket for the temperature controller had to be designed and added.

The most demanding challenge, however, was the construction of the freezer plate itself. To ensure even temperature transfer within the freezer, two metal plates had to be perfectly flat, which is an exceptional feat of precision engineering.

Dr John Morris of Asymptote is delighted with the freezer units, “Part of our offering is supplying freezer units for specialist applications in biotechnology. Each model is tailor-made to a specific use. This particular unit has benefited enormously from Shearline’s design and engineering skills, ending up much fitter for purpose than the original specification.”

David Lonsdale, Shearline’s Sales Manager, added, “We are particularly pleased to be part of this project. The total manufacturing solution we provide seems tailor-made for companies in the scientific and medical industry. Each stage of production, from research and development, design of prototypes, manufacture and assembly to testing and shipment can be completed effectively in-house at our showcase factory in Ely.”

Frog sperm was the first sperm to be frozen in 1938, paving the way for techniques developed for other animals and humans.However, despite this, methods of freezing frog sperm have remained very primitive since then. The project will develop more sophisticated techniques through the use of Asymptote’s state-of-the-art programmable freezer, currently in use in IVF clinics in the UK.

Asymptote has also sold a freezer to Perth Zoo, Australia. Researchers at the zoo hope that the pioneering freezer will prove successful in developing a genetic resource bank for big cats and elephants.