Using computer-automated, time-lapse photography of embryos in the laboratory during in-vitro fertilization may improve embryo selection, potentially increasing the chances of pregnancy among women undergoing the procedure, according to new research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and five other fertility centers.

Results of the study were presented at the recent annual European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in Munich, Germany.

The researchers at Penn and their collaborators used the Early Embryo Viability Assessment imaging device (or Eeva, developed and manufactured by Auxogyn, Inc.), which records images of developing embryos during the first three days of laboratory culture, to evaluate embryos transferred into the uterine cavity of 177 patients. The testing process involved fitting the devices into a standard incubator and using dark field imaging to capture high resolution, single-plane pictures of embryos housed in a petri dish, at five-minute intervals. The images were then fed into a software program that uses several measures to assess the embryo’s developmental potential.

Information on the embryo quality rating was not available to clinicians during the IVF procedures that were part of the study, but when researchers un-blinded the study results they found that patients with at least one “high” rated embryo transferred had a 54 percent viable pregnancy rate compared to a 34 percent rate for those following transfer of only a “low” rated embryo.

At present, fertility experts examine embryos under a microscope, looking at potential indicators of health of the embryo such as the number and symmetry of cells, and degrees of cell fragmentation. Based on these assessments and following recommendations developed through observational and correlative studies, clinicians and their embryology colleagues then choose which embryo or embryos to transfer to the womb. The time-lapse system used in the new study uses objective visual evidence and automated predictive algorithms to enhance this conventional approach.

"By developing better, non-invasive, objective predictors of embryo quality, such as it appears to be the case with the Eeva system, we will be able to transfer fewer embryos into the womb, not only leading to higher viable pregnancy rates, but also minimizing the chances for the establishment of high risk multiple pregnancies such as twins and triplets," co-author Christos Coutifaris, M.D., chief of reproductive endocrinology at Penn, said. "In the end, this may prove to be the most important contribution from the development of methods for the non-invasive evaluation of embryo quality.”

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