The method involves taking thousands of pictures of embryos to
track their development before they are implanted in the womb. The clinic, one
of the few in the UK to offer this technique, claims that this can boost IVF
success by more than 50 percent.
IVF is extremely costly, and typically has a low chance of
success. One of the most common causes of failed IVF is aneuploidy, when
implanted embryos have too many or too few chromosomes. Currently, the only way
to check an embryo for chromosomal abnormalities is to remove a cell, which
then undergoes genetic screening. This procedure costs about £2,500, and the act
of removing a cell can cause developmental problems further down the line.
Now, scientists at CARE
fertility clinic in Nottingham, UK, have developed an alternative approach
based on time-lapse imaging. Fertilised eggs are placed in an incubator, which
is hooked up to a video system capable of capturing thousands of images documenting
the embryos' development from conception to the blastocyst stage (70 to 100
cells). 'This is almost like having the embryo in the womb with a camera on
them', explains CARE's managing director Dr
Studying these images reveals certain trends. The team found,
for example, that abnormal embryos took around six hours longer to form a blastocyst
than healthy ones. They came up with an algorithm for predicting embryonic
health, and the likelihood that a particular embryo would lead to a successful
'In the 35 years I have been in this field this is probably
the most exciting and significant development that can be of value to all
patients seeking IVF', Dr Fishel told the BBC. The clinic claims the new
technique could increase the success rate for IVF treatment to 78 percent -
over three times the UK national average.
They investigated 88 embryos from 69 couples visiting the
clinic, using the time-lapse technology to classify embryos as having high,
medium or low risk of chromosomal defects. Eleven babies were born from the low risk group (61 percent
success rate) and five from the medium risk group (19 percent success rate). No embryos from the high-risk group successfully
Only about a dozen IVF clinics in the UK offer the £750 imaging
service, but CARE researchers say that if the technique were to be adopted by
the NHS, it could boost success rates and reduce the costs of IVF.
But others are more cautious. Dr Allan Pacey,
chair of the British Fertility Society, said: 'All too often
developments in IVF are trumpeted as advances when they remain unproven. In
this case, whilst this is a good piece of science, before we splash this on the
front page it should be subject to full randomised control trials'.
The study was published in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online.