COUPLES undergoing IVF treatment stand to benefit from a new screening technique that films the first 48 hours of an embryo’s development and pinpoints which embryos will continue to develop healthily.
Scientists from Stanford University, California, used time-lapse photography to observe the length of time taken for the first few cell divisions after fertilisation of the egg and were able to predict with more than 90 per cent accuracy whether embryos would develop successfully to six days.
In the study, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the researchers filmed the development of 242 frozen, one-cell healthy human embryos using a specially built time-lapse digital video microscope that captured the embryos at three critical stages.
When the scientists assessed the embryos after 48 hours, they could establish with 93 per cent accuracy whether they would continue to develop successfully. The findings could double the odds of success for couples struggling to conceive naturally and could reduce the need for multiple births.
In a typical round of IVF doctors currently monitor embryonic development for three to five days in an attempt to identify those that are more likely to result in healthy pregnancies.
Many fail after implantation, which typically happens at day three.
“We could potentially double the chances of pregnancy for some age groups,” said Kevin Loewke, formerly of Stanford University and engineering program manager at Auxogyn, a biotechnology company set up to commercialise the findings.
At present, success rates vary depending on the clinic and age of the woman but tend to be around 35 to 50 per cent. To increase chances of becoming pregnant most women elect to transfer two or more embryos to increase the chance of a live birth. ” However, this increases the chances of a multiple birth or means that more embryos are destroyed during the IVF process.
“Until recently, we’ve had so little knowledge about the basic science of our development,” said the lead author and geneticist, Renee Reijo Pera. “In addition to beginning to understand more about our development, we’re hopeful that our research will help improve pregnancy rates arising from in vitro fertilisation, while also reducing the frequency of miscarriage and the need for the selective reduction of multiple embryos,” she said.