IVF Treatment Breakthrough
Thousands of couples suffering from infertility may stand to benefit from an artificial reproduction breakthrough that might dramatically raise the treatment’s success rate.
Scientists now believe that it’s possible to double or perhaps even triple the ratio of healthy babies produced by fertility treatments, using a simple method that involves time lapse photography of the developing embryo.
In conventional IVF treatment, only about 24 percent of the embryos implanted in women produce live births. The researchers think they can raise this to 78 percent by choosing the best embryos with the new method.
The technique seeks to reduce the number of unviable embryos being put back into the womb, making it possible to significantly raise live birth rates from IVF.
A considerable number of IVF treatments today fail, creating tremendous emotional stress in the couples who may pay thousands or tens of thousands for each so called treatment cycle.
The new technique measures the embryo’s development time between two critical stages, and uses that to identify the best candidates for implanting into the womb.
During the first days of the embryo’s life, time lapse pictures are taken as it develops. These pictures are used to note how long it takes between the development of a fluid filled cavity (the so called blastula) and when the embryo emerges from the protective shell that surrounds it.
The new research discovered that the time this period takes is related to chromosomal anomalies that lead to pregnancy failures. If the period takes more than six hours, the embryo in question likely suffers from a condition called aneuploidy in which it carries more or less chromosomes than necessary.
Published in Reproductive Medicine Online, the preliminary study looked at 88 in vitro fertilization embryos from 69 different couples. It found the time lapse measuring technique might have improved the treatment success rate from 39 percent to 61 percent.
Once the procedure has been refined for a wider population, an even better success rate is to be expected.
IVF embryos are already manually checked by embryologists on a daily basis as they develop in the incubator, but using time lapse photography makes it possible to check every 10 minutes. The result is a series of more than 5000 pictures that scientists can use to measure each stage of the embryo’s growth and division. If delays appear at certain defined points, it’s a sign of abnormal development.
Before the technique is made part of the standard treatment repertoire, further studies will still need to be done. As it stands, the current research has certain caveats that still need to be explored.
Current fertility experts say that the time lapse method is already similar to current best working practices. Embryologists already seek to find the best embryo to insert into the womb. The technique will have be compared with current practice on a wide scale to know whether it can reliably beat the current methods.
However, it’s already scientifically known that the chromosomal abnormalities which the technique is believed to detect are the largest causes of IVF failures and miscarriages.