Microwell System Could be a Less Expensive and Effective IVF

In a latest research presented in the journal Biomicrofluidics, investigators from Taiwan reveal the development of a new approach they say could gradually result in more efficient, less expensive in vitro fertilization for couples having difficulties to conceive.

The “microwell system” enables embryos to be tested and the most ensuring ones to be chosen for transfer. Image Credit: Chihchen Chen/National Tsing Hua University and the National Health Research Institutes

About 1 in 8 couples in the US have difficulties getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. Although 80-90% of infertility cases are usually handled with standard treatments, like medication or surgery, in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be an choice for other people.

IVF is a kind of assisted reproductive technology (ART) in which sperm and eggs are put together in test tubes to create embryos, which are then moved to a woman’s uterus.

While IVF has huge achievements – with almost 50% of all IVF cycles carried out in women older 35 and under resulting in live births in 2013 – it does have some negative aspects.

o be able to have a successful pregnancy, people going through IVF generally need several cycles. Not only can this take its toll psychologically, it can lead to financial burden; one IVF cycle in the US is approximated to cost about $12,000. This means a lot of infertile couples can’t even afford to have the process.

But scientists from National Tsing Hua University and the National Health Research Institutes in Taiwan state a new approach they have designed could not only decrease the cost of IVF – making the process more available to infertile people – it could increase the procedure’s success rates.

‘Microwell system’ enables selection of the most ensuring embryos

Lead investigator Chihchen Chen and her team explain that their new approach enables each person embryo to be evaluated prior to being moved into the uterus, which means the ones with the greatest likelihood of success can be selected.

The scientists describe that in IVF, embryos are usually “pooled together” in small drops of fluid, identified as microdrops, prior to they are inserted in the uterus. While effective for culturing the embryos, the stability of each person embryo can’t be easily determined.

In their research, Chen and colleagues designed a “microwell system,” which they examined with mouse embryos. The embryos are located on a dish of tiny open microwells, or holes, prior to being covered with a layer of oil. The oil prevents the embryos from shifting from one microwell to another, but a micropipette is even now capable to penetrate the layer to be able to eliminate the embryos for uterus implantation.

The scientists describe that their microwell system provides each embryo its own environment, which means the viability of each embryo can be evaluated more simply.

Chen stated that:

Embryos are very delicate to their environment. Knowing the micro-environment of embryos enables us to enhance the development and reduce the epigenetic manipulation of embryos.

Blastocyst development predicted with new approach

Utilizing high-resolution time-lapse imaging to observe the development of every embryo, the scientists identified that even when cultured in the small microwells, the embryos properly developed into blastocysts – structures that form during early embryonic growth.

What is more, the scientists identified they were capable to forecast the embryo’s possibility of developing into blastocysts by the time period it had taken for them to successfully reach the 4-cell and 8-cell levels in the microwells, enabling early-stage embryos to be screened and the most ensuring ones to be chosen for transfer.

The scientists hope it will not be too long before their newly developed approach can be used in human beings, although Chen notes the experimental conditions have to be enhanced for human embryos and clinically confirmed first.

Chen and colleagues say their targeted technique would decrease the number of eggs required for IVF, decreasing the procedure’s cost and the amount of cycles needed.

“It will decrease the level of stress of people considerably if the number of IVF cycles and embryos transferred can be decreased while keeping a promising results,” she adds.