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What Are the Advantages of Embryo Monitoring with IVF?
A blog by Caroline Phillips, August 18, 2014
More and more IVF clinics are offering time-lapse imaging of IVF embryos to couples going through treatment. Embryo monitoring, as it is known, can provide a wealth of information about your embryo that previously was unavailable. The equipment takes thousands of images of your embryos as they develop in vitro. This provides the embryologists with so much more information about how your embryos are developing.
How Embryos Develop
Following fertilization, embryos divide from one cell, into two cells and then four and so on until there is a ball of cells formed called a blastocyst. At this stage, the embryo, or blastocyst, comprises of two distinct cell types. This stage is a key milestone in the embryos development. Embryos which don’t reach this stage will not implant in the womb. This journey from 1-cell to blastocyst embryo usually takes around 5-6 days. In the past, IVF laboratories, would check for fertilisation and only put successfully fertilised embryos back into the laboratory incubator to develop. At certain points, checks would be made to see that the embryos were developing. This would be done by removing them from the incubator and checking under a microscope. When the day of transfer was decided, embryologists would choose the best and most developed embryos to transfer. The choice of embryo for transfer was based on the quality of the embryo on the day and whether it had reached its milestones of development. In recent years, IVF clinics have been moving to blastocyst embryo transfer rather than day 2 or day 3 transfers. This is because the clinic knows that the blastocyst embryo has completed its early development successfully.
Why Embryos Don’t Develop
Some embryos won’t reach the key milestones in development and will not be able to develop further. This happens for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that the embryo has a chromosome abnormality. This can make its development slower or abnormal. Without embryo monitoring, embryologists can only see embryos when they remove them from the incubator and view on a microscope. Continually removing the embryos from the warm incubator can be detrimental. So, embryo viewing only occurs intermittently. At these time points, it is not possible to see how an embryo got to 4 or 8 cells or the time it took to get to these stages. Was the embryo dividing properly? Was it lagging behind compared to other embryos? This information was missing.
What embryo monitoring does is provide this information to the embryologist. The embryologist no longer needs to remove the embryos from the incubator to view. They can analyse the images that have been taken and determine which embryos look like they are growing normally. This helps them make better choices for embryo transfer. With this information, embryologists can choose to select embryos for transfer earlier in development. Why might that be important? Well, culture conditions are not as optimum as a human body. Enabling the embryo to finish early development in the womb rather than in vitro might offer a better chance of success.
Embryo monitoring is an extra cost to your treatment usually, although some IVF clinics abroad do include it in their prices for treatment. If it is something which you can afford, it may be worth considering.