Real time embryo development

November 25, 2011Carole 1 Comment »

Ever wondered what your embryo was up to during the five days it spent in the IVF incubator? Well, here’s a beautiful time-lapse video of embryo development from pronuclear stage (when fertilization is determined) to the blastocyst stage (when the embryo is implantation-ready).

One of my most popular posts is about the progression of embryo development, “Embryo stages, progression and pregnancy outcomes”, with lots of embryo photos- courtesy of some very generous colleagues and friends in IVF-, so I know that my readers enjoy looking at photos of developing embryos as much as I do.

I found this embryo time-lapse video on a website describing a new device just approved by the FDA that combines an incubator environment with a camera that takes pictures of each embryo every 20 minutes over five days so that on-going development can be studied. According to the company website, this nifty device called an Embryoscope can track the rate of cell cleavage over time (they call it blastomere activity quantification), and oocyte/embryo respiration, both indicators of embryo metabolism,

Why this device and others like it that allow real time assessment of embryo development are so exciting to IVF scientists and clinicians is that we are looking for better tools to determine which embryos in our culture dish will produce pregnancies that go to term and which won’t. The current standard is morphological assessment which simply means we score embryos on how “pretty” they are. The prettiest embryos have even cells and no fragmentation and get a high score. These embryos are the ones we prefer to transfer. But this assessment has limited value because a less pretty embryo from a twenty year old woman is more likely to implant than a text book perfect embryo from a forty year old so obviously there are other things happening inside the embryo that we can’t see.

The emerging field of metabolomics may provide new tools for embryo assessment that really reflect embryo potential. Metabolomics is the measurement of various features of embryo metabolism such as the uptake of substrates for growth such as glucose, lactose or amino acids and also oxygen uptake. Real time assessment of metabolic milestones may be more valuable in pointing us to the healthiest embryos in culture.

Here are some on-line references if you want to read or hear more about metabolomics.

Metabolomics and its application  for non-invasive embryos assessment in IVF 

A new method for embryo selection: Metabolomics

Videopod cast about embryo metabolomics 

They didn’t reveal the price for the Embryoscope on the website (which brings to mind the adage. “if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it”) so it is probably too expensive for routine clinical use. Hopefully, the Embryoscope and other real time embryo assays will be useful in a research setting to better understand what’s happening inside the embryo as it develops. This information could be used to develop better embryo culture systems and eventually allow better selection of the healthiest embryos for transfer to the uterus.

© 2011 – 2012, Carole. All rights reserved.

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