US researchers have developed a means to predict which human embryos produced through IVF are most likely to result in healthy births. Researchers filmed 242 one-cell embryos and predicted, with more than 93 percent accuracy, those that would survive up to five days. These findings may improve the success rate of IVF.
'The detection of viable IVF embryos has been a historic problem ever since the first IVF birth in 1978', said Professor Renee Reijo Pera, of Stanford's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, who was involved in the study. 'As a result of this, we should be able to transfer fewer embryos into the womb and to transfer them earlier on in development which should prevent many adverse outcomes'.
The embryos used in the study were observed over five days using time-lapse microscopy. This technology allowed photographs of the developing embryos to be taken every five minutes and compiled into a video. By studying these images, researchers identified three visual cues that could be used to accurately determine whether a blastocyst was likely to develop. The blastocyst stage is a critical point in human development where the embryo forms a sphere of cells from which the fetus can develop.
'The prediction they're getting from the three parameters is really impressive. It's certainly the best of the early indicators so far', said Professor John Carroll, a reproductive physiologist at University College London, who was not involved in the study.
'If you can predict blastocyst stage, you can transfer fewer embryos earlier', said Professor Pera. 'We could reduce these multiple births and increase the chance of a single baby birth. And we could reduce miscarriages'.
The computer algorithm developed for the technology used in this study has been licensed to Auxogyn Incorporated, who will carry out a large-scale clinical trial. 'The holy grail in our speciality is to find a way to identify the embryo most likely to implant', said Dr Marcelle Cedars, director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study. 'This appears with very high sensitivity to be able to predict an embryo that will make a blastocyst, however we know that not all blastocysts implant successfully. What really has to be proven is that this technology will increase the pregnancy rate'.
The study was published this month in the journal Nature Biotechnology.