The Fertility Centers of New England has introduced a novel incubator system which allows continual harmless observations of developing embryos.
In a clinical Assisted Reproduction practice (ART), the best methods of embryo selection are those that do as little harm to the embryos and which also rely on the basic biology of the oocyte and embryo for selection. To date the only non-invasive (very little harm) means of selecting embryos for transfer is morphology (what does the embryo look like). There are few easily integrated, clinically applicable systems, other than morphology and cell-cycle timing (are the embryos at the right stage for the time), to distinguish and differentiate oocytes, sperm and embryos from each other.
Gamete and embryo selection needs to be dynamic since embryos are not static and more than one point in an embryos development should be used to decide which embryo to select for transfer. After all, what you looked like at 5 months, 8 years, 17 years and 32 yrs may all be different depending on what happened to your body in the intervening years. Gametes (eggs or sperm) and embryos are the same, they can and do change. They are very sensitive to harsh changes and can alter their potential for making a baby very fast.
Using a sequential embryo selection technique (SES), a profile of the developing embryo can be drawn/ or profiled, and if these features can be related to biology , this profile can then be used to select embryos with the maximum potential for implantation. The key element in developing a scoring system that can be used in a repeatable manner is timing; when are observations made. If observations are made relevant to the time a women takes her hCG or to insemination (when the laboratory puts sperm and oocyte together) then data can be compared. The use of time lapse enables us to get an even better handle on these timings and how long each event takes. Using time lapse in a closed incubator system allows the laboratory to record the complete development of the embryo with no harm, since the embryos would not need to be constantly removed from the incubator for scoring/observation.
The EmbryoScope enables both of these points, observation without disruption and observation on a continual time frame to document the dynamic nature of development.
What would be observed and recorded would be the process from the 1-cell to blastocyst stage, and involve not only the tested parameters we currently use but also the exact timing of these, which is a key element for selection.
In our first clinical runs what we have observed is that many events occur outside of the normal laboratory operating work time so we may miss them. Using TimeLapse we can capture these very important transitions in the embryos and make a better choice in what we use in embryo transfer and cryopreservation. We are one of only a few centers in the country to have this cutting edge technology.