FERTILITY specialists have developed a radical technique that can boost the chances of IVF couples having a healthy baby.
Doctors in the city of Nottingham, England, who devised the procedure say it could raise live birthrates at their clinic by more than 50% by helping them choose the best embryos to implant in women.
Simon Fishel, director of the Care Fertility Group in Nottingham, said the procedure was “probably the most exciting breakthrough in 30 years”.
Other specialists said the approach was promising, but cautioned that its effectiveness was uncertain without a full trial comparing it with other technologies.
The system monitors the health of embryos by taking thousands of digital pictures from the moment of creation to the day they are implanted. The sequence of images can help doctors spot embryos that are developing well, and are most likely to result in live births.
Fertility clinics around the world have begun to use incubators fitted with time-lapse imaging technology, but the Nottingham group is believed to be the first to show how it can improve birthrates. The embryos grow in the incubators for five days, during which 5,000 pictures are taken, revealing the various stages of their development.
A healthy human embryo should contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, but more than half have too many or too few. Most either fail to implant in the womb or miscarry later in the pregnancy, but others lead to children being born with Down’s syndrome and other genetic disorders.
The Nottingham team found embryos with abnormal chromosomes reach two milestones in their development about six hours later than healthy embryos. The first milestone comes when the embryo starts to change from a dense bundle of cells into a tiny sac. The second comes when this sac becomes filled with fluid.
Based on their findings, the doctors developed a computer programme that ranked embryos as low, medium or high risk for abnormal chromosomes.
To test the system, the doctors ran the programme on time-lapse images of 88 embryos that had been recorded previously for 69 couples at the clinic. Some 61% of the embryos ranked as low risk for abnormal chromosomes led to live births, compared with none of those ranked as high risk. Martin Johnson, an editor of the journal, said: “This is a significant advance, but it is one which still needs more work.”
“This may well be the technique we have been waiting for to improve embryo selection and thus success in fertility treatment,” said Sheena Lewis, professor of reproductive medicine at Queen’s University Belfast. “It is certainly timely to develop new ways of looking at embryo health since we have been basing embryo choice on just cell number and shape since IVF began. Time-lapse imaging provides the opportunity to give continuous, detailed information on how the embryo is growing.” – Guardian News & Media 2013.
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