IVF 'may be boosted by time-lapse embryo imaging'


CARE's chief embryologist Alison Campbell explains the benefits of time-lapse imaging

Time-lapse imaging which takes thousands of pictures of developing embryos can boost the success rate of IVF, according to British research.

The method, reported in Reproductive BioMedicine Online, can be used to select embryos at low risk of defects.

Scientists at the CARE fertility group say such informed selection can improve birth rates by 56%.

Other experts say the result is exciting, but the study of 69 couples is too small to be definitive.

The research followed the couples at the CARE fertility clinic in Manchester last year, when 88 embryos were imaged and implanted.

The embryos were put into an incubator and imaged every 10-20 minutes.

Embryo screening

Continual embryo monitoring through time-lapse imaging is aimed at selecting those with the lowest risk of aneuploidy - where the cells have chromosome abnormalities. Aneuploidy is the single biggest cause of IVF failure.

But this form of embryo screening is a predictive rather than diagnostic tool.

Couples at high risk of passing on a chromosomal abnormality may prefer to have Pre-implantation Genetic Screening. This invasive test removes cells from the early embryo for analysis. It costs around £2,500 on top of the £3,000 charged for conventional IVF.

The researchers classified the embryos as low, medium or high risk of chromosome abnormalities based on their development at certain key points.

Eleven babies were born from the low risk group (61% success rate) compared to five from the medium risk group (19% success rate) and none from those deemed high risk.

"In the 35 years I have been in this field this is probably the most exciting and significant development that can be of value to all patients seeking IVF," said Prof Simon Fishel, managing director of CARE Fertility Group.

"This technology can tell us which embryo is the most viable and has the highest potential to deliver a live birth - it will have huge potential. This is almost like having the embryo in the womb with a camera on them."

In standard IVF, embryos are removed from the incubator once a day to be checked under the microscope. This means they briefly leave their temperature-controlled environment and single daily snapshots of their development are possible.

Dr Sue Avery, British Fertility Society: "We haven't really got clear clinical evidence yet"

Using the time-lapse method embryos don't leave the incubator until they are implanted allowing 5,000 images to be taken.

"Removing embryos from the incubator potentially exposes them to damage, so it must be a good thing to be able to look at the pattern of development over time.

"These results are very interesting but this is is a very small study and any interpretation of the findings must be made with caution as we are dealing with the hopes and expectations of patients," said Dr Virginia Bolton from the assisted conception unit at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

Sheena Lewis, professor of reproductive medicine at Queen's University, Belfast, said: "This may well be the technique we have been waiting for to improve embryo selection and thus success in fertility treatment.

"However, this is a small study with just 46 embryos being followed through to birth. Much more research will be needed before this becomes a routine clinical tool."

Around a dozen private and NHS clinics are using time-lapse embryo imaging. It costs around £750 in addition to about £3,000 for IVF.

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    267 We live in a vastly over-populated country (& planet). The priority needs to be to adequately look after the people we have. If a couple wish to have IVF treatment, they should not expect the state to pay as a matter of right.

    Incidentally, children are usually very loved & wanted by their parents, regardless of whether they were conceived by IVF or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    IVF children are wanted children. They are not born because their parents want to claim more benefits or get a bigger home from the state. They are loved and nurtured and when they grow up are very likely to contribute to society far more in taxes than the cost of their parents' treatment. In an ageing population with increasing infertility surely IVF is a sound investment for the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    I.V.F and N.H.S. can never should get together.Health Department has got enough things to pay for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    260 forwarnedthinking
    Your argument is illogical to me. I simply find it morally wrong for up to 3 rounds of IVF to be made available to all from hard pressed NHS funds, when resources are too often unavailable for those needing a life saving cancer treatment, life changing treatment for a sick child or vital end of life care.
    The wish for a child is a desire; not a matter of life or death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    Why are people talking about the NHS. What the hell do they have to do with IVF. Very, very little. This development is great news for ordinary people with ordinary budgets, never mind ordinary hopes and desires.

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    #261. i am looking into counselling. out of interest, would you object to me getting cbt on nhs?
    #248 walking around every day feeling like part of you is missing. Fighting against the hormones in your body that are screaming at you to have a child. overwhelming emptiness that won't go away. Perhaps saying we deserve the right was the wrong choice of words. We deserve the opportunity/priviledge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    @ 257 You can be as astouded as you like. But it´s still not painful, nor life threatening nor degenerative, which IS the remit of the NHS.

    Also my comment was somewhat less impudent than assuming the right to something where no right exists.

    As ´painful` as it may be, there is no entitlement to all we would like out of life. It´s far healthier (mentally) to enjoy what you have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    For those complaining of the agony and anguish of being child-free - get some CBT to help you copel with it! That's what CBT is FOR.
    You DO NOT have to suffer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    @ Marie

    Your argument is well in to the rediculous. That public money should only be spent on people that need life saving treatment is vacuous. Should money currently spend on leisure centres go to cancer treatment?

    You also believe money should go to those with greatest need. You agree the public sector should be shut down and the money go to Darfur or Somalia...? No? Didn't think so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    If the NHS can assist fat people with obesity operation or smokers needing to quit smoking then they can assist with IVF treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    Simply Fantastic!!

    Yet another example of excellent British Science on a shoestring budget!!

    Religious objectionists, please note:- This improves on your so called God design, so you argument is blown out of the water.

    In addition, if it does exist, it gave us a brain to do these things wouldn't you say!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    I am astounded by the impudence of the person who questioned the acute and persistent pain that one commenter stated they had. Know that it can be devastating in many ways, emotional, physical, existential - and your family and friends forever (understandably expressing their joy over how wonderful little Jimmy is doing and then after that the grandchildren - is a stab in the heart EVERY TIME

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    These days the NHS is being stretched to the limit; we all know stark choices are being made.I want to know that if a loved one needs life saving care, this will exist for them. I'm sorry for couples who struggle to conceive but in most cases provision of NHS fertility treatment isn't warranted; it occurs because a couple want a child at any cost. I want my taxes spent on those with greatest need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    Great, more humans

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    Your right if you can't afford children you should have them, such a shame so many have them when they can't afford them & the state picks up where they've failed - the statement you made is nothing to do with ivf in that case it stands for all state hand outs surely

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    If you cannot afford IVR, simply put you cannot afford to have children.
    Why should the state pick up where you have failed.

    The NHS already has resources stretched to help the sick.

    Its a shame so many adults think they have right to have children but accept no responsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    Some are far too quick to judge. Yes there are people with cancer and life threatening illness which the NHS has to fund. But do we stop funding for alcoholics, drug users, people who smoke, obesity etc. The NHS covers all these things. IVF is a good thing. I would rather my hard earned tax went to helping these people rather than drug users and obese people being fitted with gastric bands!

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    Once the argument is made that having a baby is a lifestyle choice and the state should not fund life style choices, then you open a real can of worms.

    Pre-natal care, midwifery, statutory meternity pay, child care, education, leisure centres, playgrounds, adoption agencies and other childrens council services, pediatrics, vaccinations, even the BBFC.

  • Comment number 250.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Re: funding.

    Each trust (as was) allocates funding depending on the needs/wants of the local population. Some allow 1 round, some allow 2 or 3, some none.

    It would be interesting to see whether cancer/heart failure/stroke recovery etc is better in those area that do not offer IVF.

    Personally I don't think the NHS should provide IVF, but I'm taking advantage of the fact that it does.


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