New IVF Analysis Procedure May Result in More Pregnancies

What if you were trying to get pregnant using in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and suddenly had a greater than 50% chance of succeeding?

It's not quite there yet, but a new study has found that using computer-automated, time‐lapse photography of embryos in the laboratory during IVF may improve embryo selection, potentially increasing the chances of pregnancy among women undergoing the procedure, according to

As someone who went through this more than once, finally succeeding on the third, fourth and fifth tries (but only one live birth), it raises a real beacon of hope. In the past women were given (at least when I did it, 13 years ago) a 30% chance of success, based on the average woman in good health.  The good news is, it worked a lot of the time, especially for younger women.  But for women in their 40s like me, the success rate was far less impressive.

Now labs may actually be able to use a device which records images of developing embryos during the first three days of laboratory culture, to evaluate embryos before they're transferred into the uterus.

The testing process in the study involved fitting the devices into a standard incubator and using dark field imaging to capture high resolution, single-plane pictures of embryos housed in a petri dish, at five-minute intervals, the Web site reports. The images were then fed into a software program that uses several measures to assess the embryo’s developmental potential – rating them high, medium, or low for their capacity to reach the blastocyst stage by the fifth or sixth day of culture. Embryos normally implant at the blastocyst stage – when they have divided into about 100-200 cells – and it is known that blastocysts have a much greater chance of implanting successfully and resulting in an ongoing, viable pregnancy.

When I was going through this, the embryos were not held until they developed to blastocysts before implanatation.  They were implanted much earlier, and so, of course, most did not make it.

During the IVF procedures that were part of the study, when researchers found that patients with at least one “high” rated embryo transferred had a 54 percent viable pregnancy rate compared to a 34 percent rate for those following transfer of only a “low” rated embryo.

Computer-automated programs have the potential to predict by day two of embryo development which embryo(s) are more likely to become viable blastocysts and result in a viable pregnancy. By using non-invasive cell tracking and prediction software, the development of each embryo is automatically analyzed against the well-validated cell division time periods, newswise notes.

If the timing and duration of cellular divisions fall within the defined optimal time periods, an embryo is given a high probability rating for becoming a blastocyst. If division timing falls outside of the optimal time range, an embryo is given a low probability rating. The current study extends these findings by showing that embryos receiving a high rating for becoming a blastocyst, also have a higher probability to implant and result in a viable pregnancy.

Now, researchers have been able to screen embryos for genes that carry the potential for certain diseases for some time so I guess this is just the next step.  

Today, fertility experts examine embryos under a microscope, looking at potential indicators of health of the embryo such as the number and symmetry of cells, and degrees of cell fragmentation. "Based on these assessments and following recommendations developed through observational and correlative studies, clinicians and their embryology colleagues then choose which embryo(s) to transfer to the womb. The time-lapse system used in the new study uses objective visual evidence and automated predictive algorithms to enhance this conventional approach," newswise explains. 

Fertility experts are really excited because not only does this increase a woman's chances of becoming, and staying, pregnant, it also allows them to reduce the number of embryos implanted, lowering the risk of multiple births, which are more complicated and potentially more dangerous for both mother and child.  When I was doing it, I had as many as six embryos transferred at one time.  I didn't become pregnant, but I met a woman who had only three -- and she became pregnant with triplets!

So there's more hope than ever for couples hoping to bring a baby home from the hospital.


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