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 and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was considering introducing labelling for samples of eggs and sperm using electronic tags or barcodes, a system which is widely used to identify donated blood.
In 2002, a mistake was made in an IVF treatment where the wrong man's sperm was used, which resulted in a white couple from Leeds giving birth to mixed race twins. A report was released after an independent enquiry into the case, which suggested that every procedure where a mix-up could occur should be witnessed.
The new technology, named 'Matcher', works by allocating a unique barcode specific to each patient's treatment, which is then used to label all the equipment used for them. Matcher then confirms and records every procedure carried out throughout the IVF cycles, and also provides photographic identification cards for the patients to carry with them throughout the treatment.
Dr Stephen Troup is the scientific director at the Hewitt Centre for Reproductive Medicine at the hospital and was involved in developing the system. He believes that while also reducing time-consuming repetitive checks by staff, it should prevent mix-ups with eggs and sperm at clinics.
The Hewitt Centre's Lead Clinical Embryologist Karen Schnauffer has been heavily involved in the project for the past five years. She says: 'It has been extremely exciting to have been involved in the development of this technology within our field where, obviously, any mistake can be devastating. The beauty of this machine is that it should never get it wrong. The use of electronic witnessing is also much less distracting for embryologists'.