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Time-lapse embryo imaging boosts IVF success, clinic claims

20 May 2013

By Emma Stoye

Appeared in BioNews 705

A technique for monitoring embryo health could increase the chance of IVF couples having a healthy baby, according to a study from researchers at a private fertility clinic.

The method involves taking thousands of pictures of embryos to track their development before they are implanted in the womb. The clinic, one of the few in the UK to offer this technique, claims that this can boost IVF success by more than 50 percent.

IVF is extremely costly, and typically has a low chance of success. One of the most common causes of failed IVF is aneuploidy, when implanted embryos have too many or too few chromosomes. Currently, the only way to check an embryo for chromosomal abnormalities is to remove a cell, which then undergoes genetic screening. This procedure costs about £2,500, and the act of removing a cell can cause developmental problems further down the line.

Now, scientists at CARE fertility clinic in Nottingham, UK, have developed an alternative approach based on time-lapse imaging. Fertilised eggs are placed in an incubator, which is hooked up to a video system capable of capturing thousands of images documenting the embryos' development from conception to the blastocyst stage (70 to 100 cells). 'This is almost like having the embryo in the womb with a camera on them', explains CARE's managing director Dr Simon Fishel.

Studying these images reveals certain trends. The team found, for example, that abnormal embryos took around six hours longer to form a blastocyst than healthy ones. They came up with an algorithm for predicting embryonic health, and the likelihood that a particular embryo would lead to a successful birth.

'In the 35 years I have been in this field this is probably the most exciting and significant development that can be of value to all patients seeking IVF', Dr Fishel told the BBC. The clinic claims the new technique could increase the success rate for IVF treatment to 78 percent - over three times the UK national average.

They investigated 88 embryos from 69 couples visiting the clinic, using the time-lapse technology to classify embryos as having high, medium or low risk of chromosomal defects. Eleven babies were born from the low risk group (61 percent success rate) and five from the medium risk group (19 percent success rate). No embryos from the high-risk group successfully implanted.

Only about a dozen IVF clinics in the UK offer the £750 imaging service, but CARE researchers say that if the technique were to be adopted by the NHS, it could boost success rates and reduce the costs of IVF.

But others are more cautious. Dr Allan Pacey, chair of the British Fertility Society, said: 'All too often developments in IVF are trumpeted as advances when they remain unproven. In this case, whilst this is a good piece of science, before we splash this on the front page it should be subject to full randomised control trials'.

The study was published in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online.


04 September 2017 - by Anna Leida 
A new imaging technique can help assess the quality of early-stage embryos...
05 December 2016 - by Georgia Everett 
An interactive map exhibiting the development of the early human embryo in unprecedented detail has been created by a team of Dutch researchers...
22 February 2016 - by The signatories of the COGEN Consensus Statement 
It is clear from the reply of Mertes et al in BioNews 835 to the COGEN Consensus Statement on preimplanation genetic screening that some controversy still remains regarding the benefits of PGS...
16 June 2014 - by Dr Molly Godfrey 
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a time-lapse imaging tool designed to improve the embryo selection in IVF for use in the USA....
17 February 2014 - by Dr Shanya Sivakumaran 
An 'entrance exam' set by the cells that line the womb can determine whether or not human embryos are able to implant into the womb's lining, according to researchers...

08 May 2012 - by Ana Pallesen 
An IVF test which checks whether embryos carry the correct number of chromosomes could improve the chances of a successful pregnancy, a clinical trial suggests. The test – developed by the biotech company Blue Gnome – is used five days after an egg has been fertilised and helps doctors select which embryos should be implanted during IVF treatment...
19 December 2011 - by Dr Rebecca Hill 
In what is now synonymous with Progress Educational Trust (PET)'s ethos, the final session of the annual conference, 'The Best Possible Start in Life: The Robust and Responsive Embryo', was a free-form debate. Following on from the previous sessions where a wealth of eminent researchers gave informative and often provocative talks, Guardian columnist Zoe Williams had the task of chairing what proved to be an entertaining debate...
15 August 2011 - by Dr Tamara Hirsch 
Rhythmic activity detected in newly fertilised mouse eggs may provide a novel and non-invasive screening method for identifying embryos most likely to survive a full-term pregnancy, according to research published in Nature Communications...
11 October 2010 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
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....

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