Page URL:

Barcodes to stop IVF mix-ups?

4 April 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 302

The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is considering the labelling of all embryoseggs and sperm with 'barcodes' or electronic identification tags, in a bid to prevent mistakes during fertility treatment. The tags would be attached to the base of containers holding the samples, and an alarm would sound if, for example, an attempt was made to fertilise an egg with the wrong sperm. Barcoding technology is already widely used to identify donated blood, reports New Scientist magazine.

In March 2003, a High Court judge ruled that a black man is the legal father of mixed-race twins born to a white couple after the wrong man's sperm was accidentally used in IVF treatment. Although such mix-ups are rare, similar cases have occurred in the US and the Netherlands. The HFEA is now investigating whether barcoding would be a safe way to prevent such mistakes in the future. One system, produced by UK firm Research Instruments, has already been tested on mouse embryos, to find out if the radio waves it uses can harm embryos. Although the tests have not yet been completed, 'it looks very, very good that there's going to be no problem with it', according to technical director David Landsdowne. A similar system is being developed by another British company, IMT International.

An independent report into IVF procedures published last year recommended a double-witnessing system to prevent errors, which involves two people witnessing and documenting every step at which a mix-up could occur. But this is very time-consuming, and so the HFEA's Safety and New Technologies advisory group has been looking for alternatives. The barcoding approach was discussed at the authority's annual meeting, held last month. 'We are always looking for new ways to ensure safety and consistency in laboratory practice', said a spokesman last week. However, he said that there would be no major changes in the short term, adding 'these techniques are still in their infancy'.

Barcode That Baby, Maybe Says Embryology Body
Reuters |  30 March 2005
Electronic tags for eggs, sperm and embryos
New Scientist |  2 April 2005
Watchdog considers IVF barcodes
BBC News Online |  31 March 2005
4 February 2013 - by Ari Haque 
Ottawa fertility doctor Norman Barwin has been suspended from practising medicine for two months after artificially inseminating women with the wrong sperm. Five women were involved in four incidents of receiving the wrong sperm between 1986 and 2007....
21 November 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
Apologies have been issued by a Welsh IVF clinic following the accidental destruction of three patients' sperm samples. The samples, known as straws, were collected from patients undergoing treatments for blood disorders and cancer that may affect their fertility. An investigation is underway as to why no senior staff were informed when the samples were destroyed in March this year...
15 June 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens 
An embryo belonging to a couple being treated at a Cardiff fertility clinic was accidentally implanted into the wrong woman and subsequently destroyed. The prospects of Deborah, who is 40, having another child with her partner Paul, 38, are slim and both are said to be devastated that their last hope of conceiving a sibling for their six-year-old son has been lost....
16 September 2008 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
A barcode system has been developed by doctors at Liverpool Women's Hospital in the UK to prevent mix-ups in IVF treatments. The system has been used for the first time for patients at the hospital in Liverpool. As reported in BioNews in April 2005, the Human Fertilisation...
17 July 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
A trial is taking place to electronically tag IVF embryos to prevent mistakes in clinics such as implanting the wrong embryos or fertilising eggs with the wrong sperm. The current system in the UK relies on staff monitoring each other but there have been a number of...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.