A new imaging technique can help assess the quality of early-stage embryos.
Termed hyperspectral imaging, the technique could one day improve IVF success rates by providing an objective assessment of embryo health, which currently depends on the opinion and experience of the clinician.
'Preimplantation genetic screening of embryos generally takes place under a normal optical microscope,' said lead author Dr Melanie Sutton-McDowall of the University of Adelaide, Australia. 'Although it's quite easy to discern poor embryos (due to differences in uniformity), it is far harder for the clinician to determine objectively, the viability of the other embryos.'
Developed by researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics at the University of Adelaide, the imaging technique is able to identify variations in metabolic activity in cultivated embryos. Metabolic activity is considered one of the most important factors to determine embryo health, and embryos with a homogenous metabolic profile are typically the most healthy.
In this study, published in Human Reproduction, the scientists could detect metabolic differences between five-day-old cow embryos exposed to two different oxygen concentrations (20 percent and 7 percent) using hyper spectral imaging, in contrast to traditional fluorescence microscopic techniques. Each set of embryos subsequently showed different levels of developmental success.
Current techniques can measure the light (fluorescence) naturally produced by cells during chemical reactions, but hyperspectral imaging can measure light intensity across a range of wavelengths. This means it can capture information from several processes simultaneously.
While the use of hyperspectral imaging in IVF clinics and for human embryos is some years away, Dr Sutton-McDowall expects to see the technology adapted for use fairly quickly.
'I think we’ll see this innovative approach commercialized fairly quickly,' she predicted. 'IVF is a costly and complex treatment. Any new method that can help improve the odds of women successfully having babies is of benefit to both clinicians and their patients.'
Various kinds of microscopic systems are already used to provide non-invasive, time-lapse information of growing embryos in the IVF clinic (see Bionews 705).