Time-lapse incubation (Embryoscope)

Time-lapse incubation (Embryoscope)

Culturing human embryos in vitro requires specific culture conditions. In few words, embryologists have to mimic the natural environment. The conventional way of doing it is to use incubators with precise and controlled temperature and gas concentrations. After sperm injection, embryos are placed in culture dishes in these incubators and embryologists remove them for daily morphologic evaluation done under the microscope.

However, removing embryos from the incubator will immediately change the temperature of the dish and the atmosphere of the culture media in which embryos are cultured. In time-lapse incubators an undisturbed environment is offered for embryo culture as the development for each individual embryo can be assessed at the same time by taking pictures at defined time intervals. For each embryo, these pictures can be viewed in sequence as a video and allow to follow exactly how the embryos grow over time.

Since the use of time-lapse incubators in IVF laboratories in 2010, embryologists have increased their knowledge regarding many dynamic morphological features in the developing embryo. Multinucleation at the 2-cell stage, known to reduce implantation and pregnancy rates, has an incidence of up to 50% in all embryos. However, standard observation will overlook up to 70% of multinucleated 2-cell embryos (with more than one nuclei, carrying the DNA in form of chromosomes) (Ergin et al., 2014, Aguilar et al., 2014).

Also, direct cleavage, the division  of one cell into three instead of two) leading to reduced implantation, is reported to be in the range of 15-30% of all embryos. 60% of these direct cleavages will be overlooked by standard observation (Rubio et al., 2012, Liu et al., 2014). Benefits of time-lapse directly translates into clinical benefits by eliminating embryos that have a reduced pregnancy potential thereby resulting in increased implantation rates and reduced pregnancy loss.

What is a time lapse Embryoscope?

A time-lapse Embryoscope is a type of incubator used in assisted reproductive technology (ART) to culture embryos during in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures. It’s a specialized incubator that uses a camera to capture images of developing embryos at regular intervals, such as every 10-15 minutes, throughout their growth. The images are then used to create a time-lapse video of the embryo’s development, allowing fertility specialists to monitor its growth and development in real time without disturbing the embryo.

Firstly, it minimizes embryo handling, which reduces the risk of damage or disruption to the embryo during the incubation period. Additionally, the constant monitoring of embryos allows for more precise timing of embryo development, enabling the selection of the most viable embryos for transfer, thereby increasing the chance of a successful pregnancy. It also allows fertility specialists to identify any developmental anomalies or abnormalities in embryos, which can inform decisions regarding the selection and transfer of embryos.

The time-lapse Embryoscope is particularly useful for older women or couples who have had unsuccessful IVF treatments in the past. . Overall, the use of an Embryoscope can help improve IVF success rates, reduce the number of unsuccessful treatments, and increase the chances of having a healthy baby.

Advantages of Embryoscope:

  • Transparency in the growth of embryos as the time-lapse picture might be seen. So, all cell division time points might be monitored, used in in-house algorithms to select and prioritize embryos. 
  • Help embryologists identify anomalies, such as unusual severe fragmentation or cleavage patterns or pronucleate abnormalities that might otherwise be missed.
  • Uninterrupted culture as embryos are not removed from the Embryoscope for daily quality checks since their development is constantly monitored by the incubator itself.

Disadvantages of Embryoscope:

  • Increases the cost of IVF in many clinics worldwide (but very affordable in Turkey

Reference: Kirkegaard, K., Juhl Hindkjaer, J., & Ingerslev, H. J. (2012). Human embryonic development after blastomere removal: a time-lapse analysis. Human reproduction, 27(1), 97-105.

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