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Rock-A-Bye Petri Dish


by Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, Nov. 5, 2009

Imagine a technology that can imitate the natural womb and therefore increase the pregnancy rates for in vitro fertilization (IVF). That’s exactly what Dr. Gary Smith, an embryologist, and Dr. Shu Takayama, a biomedical engineer at the University of Michigan, began thinking about when they invented Incept BioSystems, a new kind of Petri dish that better mimics the natural environment of the uterus during conception.

When an egg fertilizes in your natural womb, it doesn’t happen in stillness. Liquid flows in and out, gently rocking the eggs and constantly refreshing them so they are more ready to receive the incoming sperm. In traditional IVF, eggs are removed from your body and placed in a liquid culture medium in a static Petri dish. “There is no flow or mixing,” says Joe Conaghan, the clinical lab director at Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco, California.

Smith and Takayama developed a new kind of Petri dish that uses a smart cell technology that circulates fluid around the embryos so that their local environment is constantly refreshed with new culture media. The technology is based on the concept of microfluidics, which is a field of science that deals with the behavior, control and manipulation of fluid in small spaces.

And now Incept Bio Systems is taking the technology into clinical trials with patients at three fertility clinics – Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco, The Fertility Center of San Antonio, and South Eastern Fertility Center in South Carolina - with the hope to bring it to market in 2010.

“In tests on animal and frozen embryos there was enhanced development,” says Chris Bleck, the CEO of the company. “They developed at a faster rate and we had a higher percent of advanced- stage blastocysts. Without micro fluidics there was a 20-30 percent rate of blastocysts that made it to hatching stage and with micro fluidics we consistently doubled that rate to 60-70 percent.”

The ultimate goal, of course, is to increase our implantation and pregnancy rates.


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