While fertility issues continue to burgeon and sweep the world, it seems that every day there has been yet another new technique developed to undo the tragedy that Mother Nature has laid at our doorsteps. Now, researchers have found a way to give a bit of a boost to the success rate for in vitro fertilization (IVF). Scientists have now developed a teensy computer chip that acts as a kind of laboratory and can be used to ascertain the viability of embryos that are harvested for transfer. Scientists say this lab on a chip is quicker, more reliable, and easier than the usual methods for evaluating embryos for selection.
Todd Thorsen and his colleagues decided to investigate whether or not the current methods of evaluation could be improved upon. The usual method of screening embryos for IVF involves a microscopic examination of the physical characteristics of the embryo, for instance the shape of its cells. This method is not only a very slow one, but it is also far from accurate.
Finding a better method for this type of evaluation is crucial with some 130,000 American women undergoing IVF procedures per year. Meantime, IVF has only a 30% success rate. Because of this low rate of success, doctors often transfer multiple embryos into the uterus. The problem with this is that not only does this lead to multiple births, but there are increased risks to the mother and to the children produced by this method. Thorsen’s group feels that finding a more focused and efficient method for screening embryos is critical.
To that end, scientists have developed what they call a microfluidic chip, which is about the size of a quarter. This chip is meant to provide an automatic analysis of the health of the embryos being considered for transfer. The chip does this by measuring the ways in which the embryos modify important nutrients in the tissue culture medium which is used to sustain them prior to transplant.
For the purpose of the laboratory studies, the scientists gathered fluids from around 10 mouse embryos. They then placed these fluids upon the computerized chip for an evaluation. The device can measure the nutrients contained in these sample fluids within minutes. The old, standard way of screening embryos takes hours and is far from accurate.
The scientists believe that apart from improving the quality of the embryos that are chosen for IVF, their system will end up cutting costs for what is currently a very expensive procedure.