UK scientists believe they can triple the number of healthy babies born as a result of fertility treatment with a simple technique that takes a series of photographs of the developing IVF embryos.
On average only about 24 per cent of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) embryos implanted into women in the UK lead to live births but the researchers believe this could be increased to 78 per cent using the new technique for selecting the best embryos,The Independent reported.
“I believe it is the most exciting breakthrough we’ve had in probably 30 years,” said Professor Simon Fishel,managing director of the CARE Fertility Group,where the technique was developed.
“Every IVF practice in the world is unintentionally and unwittingly putting back into the womb unviable embryos that don’t make babies,” Fishel said.
The new procedure,which costs 750 pounds,identifies the best embryos to be implanted into the womb based on the time it has taken to develop between two key stages in the early life-cycle of the embryo.
Thousands of time-lapse pictures are taken during the first few days of an IVF embryo’s life and these are used to identify the time between the first appearance of the fluid-filled cavity,called the blastula,and the final moment before the embryo ‘hatches’ from its protective shell.
Scientists have found that when this period lasts longer than about six hours,the IVF embryo is likely to be carrying an abnormal number of chromosomes,called aneuploidy,which will lead to a failure of the pregnancy.
A preliminary study,published in the journal Reproductive Medicine Online and based on a retrospective analysis of 88 IVF embryos of 69 couples,found that the time-lapse technique could have improved the success rate of life births in this particular group of patients from 39 per cent to 61 per cent.
Even better success rates can be expected once the procedure is refined and applied to the wider population of infertile couples seeking IVF treatment,Fishel said.
“Our work has shown that we can easily classify embryos into low or high risk of being chromosomally abnormal. This is important because in itself this is the largest single cause of IVF failure and miscarriage,” he said.
“Normally,IVF embryos in an incubator are checked manually each day by embryologists but the time-lapse cameras are able to do this automatically by taking pictures every 10 minutes without interfering with embryo development,” said Alison Campbell,embryology director at Care Fertility in Nottingham,who developed the computer algorithm controlling the analysis.