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Keep Track of Your Embryos


by Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, Dec. 11, 2009

There’s been a lot in the news lately about fertility clinics mixing-up embryos and even losing them altogether. Because of these problems, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recently pledged to begin working with patient groups and policy makers to ensure better systems to reduce the risk of errors. “IVF is difficult enough for patients without the added worry of possible mix ups,” said Kevin M. Johnson, M.D., Medical Director, of Overlake Reproductive Health in Seattle, Washington. “We wanted to offer our patients complete peace of mind."

That peace of mind is now being sold to clinics in the U.K. and U.S. by U.K. company Research Instruments under the brand name IVF Witness. This non-invasive software technology called Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), is being used to lower the risk of lab errors by electronically identifying the sperm, eggs and embryos.

The technology has now been used in 20,000 infertility treatment cycles.

Each patient using RFID technology is given an identity card that is used with all the materials for that patient, including Petri dishes and test tubes used in a patient’s treatment cycle. Using visual and audible signals, the microchips track the patients' genetic material through the entire fertilization process. The system will alert a lab technician if the wrong material is introduced in order to prevent mislabeling any materials.

John Robinson, M.D., Scientific Director of Hull IVF Unit in the U.K., says the technology provides "a continual and very robust safety check, independent and additional to the many checks embryologists have to carry out.”

The cost of IVF Witness is variable, depending upon the configuration and requirements of each IVF clinic, and each clinic sets the cost to the patient. Twenty-five clinics in the U.S. and U.K. are now using this technology.

So will this technology become commonplace and solve the problem of embryo mix-ups? Time will tell. But if you’re looking for additional peace of mind as you go through ART, you might want to ask your doctor what he or she thinks about this tracking system.


Rachel Lehmann-Haupt ( is a journalist and the author of In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment and Motherhood (Basic Books, 2009).