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New Technique May Help Select the Best Eggs to Create Embryos for IVF

Photo Credit: Brown University

A new technique that retrieves a lot of information from a small amount of genetic material may help fertility doctors in the future to select the best eggs to be fertilized for in vitro fertilization.

Researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island have developed a way to see which genes each egg cell is expressing without harming them, and the new technique could ultimately give parents and doctors a preview of which eggs are likely to make the most viable embryos.

A team of physicians and biologists was able to sequence the transcribed genetic material (known as mRNA) in egg cells and in smaller structures pinched off from them called “polar bodies,” which is a scientific first. They found the polar bodies to be a reflection of the eggs’ genetic activity— the polar bodies capture a microcosm of the egg’s genetic material produced when genes have been transcribed and a cell is set to make proteins based on those genetic instructions.

“It seems that the polar body does reflect what is in the egg,” says study co-author Sandra Carson, professor obstetrics and gynecology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and director of the Center for Reproduction and Infertility at Women & Infants Hospital. “Because the egg is the major driver of the first three days of human embryo development, what we find in the polar body may give us a clue into what is happening during that time.”

More research is needed to create a tool that will be useful for fertility doctors. For example, researchers need to discern which genes affect embryo viability. With the new knowledge and techniques developed in their study, the researchers say scientists could analyze the mRNA from polar bodies of eggs that are fertilized and track the progress of the resulting embryos. Once the key genes are known, researchers could create fast assays to look for those genes in polar bodies so that clinicians and patients could pick the best eggs. The technology could also be used for choosing which eggs to freeze for later use.

“We don’t quite have the answer of what those messages are doing exactly or necessarily the purpose of them in the cell function, but that’s to come,” Carson said. “Now we have the words, but not the sentences.”


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