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Embryo's survival can be predicted based on egg's movement

15 August 2011
Appeared in BioNews 620

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.

Researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge discovered that when a sperm enters an egg the cytoplasm begins to vibrate in a characteristic pattern, which can be used to predict the embryo's survival once implanted into the womb. 'The pattern of those movements is predictive of whether the embryo will have successful developments throughout the entire pregnancy', said lead author Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz.

Not only could this method potentially improve success rates of IVF if similar results are found in humans, it could also reduce the number of multiple births and other associated risks, as fewer embryos would need to be transferred to begin with.

Professor Zernicka-Goetz and her team filmed 71 mouse eggs immediately after fertilisation using rapid time-lapse imaging and specialised analytical techniques, known as particle image velocimetry. This enabled them to visualise and measure the cytoplasmic movements within the egg. They then monitored the development of the embryos in culture over four days, to the blastocyst stage where the egg is ready to transplant into the womb.

The embryos that were most successful at producing pregnancies in mice had cytoplasm oscillating at 10-15 nanometres per second, accompanied by waves of movement peaking every 10-30 minutes. The oscillations were found to correspond to calcium influx within the fertilised egg. 'High quality' embryos were almost three times more likely to develop to the time of birth compared to 'lower quality' embryos, based on predictions from early cytoplasm oscillations.

Current IVF methods monitor development of embryos for two to three days after fertilisation, before selecting which to implant. This new method could reduce the time frame to only two hours, writes author Dr Anna Ajduk.

As similar movements occur in human embryos, these findings should be equally predictive of embryo viability in humans. The invention provides a quantitative method of determining embryo viability which is much more reliable than current qualitative visual inspection.

'Clearly performing the technique is complex and will need to be simplified or automated for use in a busy IVF lab', commented Dr Allan Pacey, an expert in reproductive biology at the University of Sheffield. 'This is the biggest hurdle I anticipate that might prevent more people experimenting with this approach. But I hope they do, as we really need to develop something more technical than the 'watch and wait' approach'.

Professor Zernicka-Goetz said she was in discussions with IVF clinics to initiate trials involving human embryos. 'Within a year's time we should know whether such movements are predictive of the successful development of human embryos', she said.

3 May 2016 - by Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz 
Although our recent findings on the fate of aneuploid cells in mosaic embryos have indeed been somewhat misrepresented in the press, our findings may still constitute a strand of hope for mothers who have had early test results showing mosaic aneuploidy...
20 May 2013 - by Emma Stoye 
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...
15 May 2012 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
In sex education videos the race of sperm to the egg is portrayed like an Olympic swimming final as sperm surge purposefully down the female reproductive tract to the finish line. The reality, however, may be rather less elegant...
19 March 2012 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Men who consume a diet rich in saturated fat - the type found in junk food - have lower sperm counts than men whose diets contain low levels of such fats, according to scientists...
10 October 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
US researchers have developed a way to analyse the viability of human eggs at a genetic level without causing them harm. This technology will help improve the chances of successful IVF for couples with fertility problems...
8 August 2011 - by Dr Anna Smajdor 
In 2007, the world's media reported - with various degrees of shock and disapproval - on a Big Brother-style TV programme being created in Holland. This was Big Brother with a bizarre twist: instead of a cash prize and a moment of minor celebrity, the winner would get ... a kidney. Fast forward to 2011. A similar media outcry has been provoked by the announcement by fertility charity To Hatch of a lottery where the prize is - not cash; not a kidney, but... fertility treatment...
4 July 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
European researchers have linked ovarian stimulation in women aged over 35 to increased chromosomal abnormalities. Genetic screening shows that the production of oocytes is disrupted during fertility treatment involving ovarian stimulation...
6 June 2011 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
A US fertility clinic has issued a press release warning against simplistic interpretations of a recent report on IVF success rates...
31 May 2011 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
Multiple genetic tests have been performed on a single embryo for almost the first time, according to US researchers. The researchers from John Hopkins School of Medicine say their technique for making copies of an embryo's DNA can improve IVF success rates...
9 May 2011 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
Women who attended a mind and body course shortly before undergoing IVF demonstrated increased pregnancy rates compared with those that did not, a US study has found. The findings suggest that stress relief may increase the likelihood of becoming pregnant from IVF....
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