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Technology to Make IVF More Affordable?

Microfluidic Chip Could Someday Lead to a More Targeted Embryo Selection Process, Researchers Say
By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 29, 2008 -- New technology could eventually make infertility treatments more effective and less expensive. Though it has so far only been tested with mouse embryos, the hope is that it could improve the process of selecting the most viable embryos for in vitro fertilization. Research on the new technology, informally called "lab on a chip," has been published in Analytical Chemistry.

In vitro fertilization, known as IVF, involves combining eggs and sperm outside the body in a laboratory. Once an embryo or embryos form, they are then placed in the uterus. IVF is a complex and expensive procedure. The average cost of IVF is more than $12,000.

Currently, fertility doctors evaluate the quality of an embryo being considered for IVF through microscopic examination of the embryo's physical characteristics, such as cell shape. This process is time-consuming and not reliable enough, according to researchers.

Almost 130,000 women undergo IVF procedures each year in the U.S. -- yet the success rate is only about 30%. To boost a woman's chances of conceiving, doctors may put more than one embryo into the uterus. This can lead to multiple births and makes the pregnancy riskier for both mother and child.

The scientists -- from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Fertility Laboratories of Colorado -- worked with a device called a microfluidic chip, which they hope will someday lead to a more targeted embryo selection process. The chip, about the size of a quarter, is designed to evaluate the health of embryos being considered for transplant by measuring how the embryo alters key nutrients in the tissue culture medium surrounding embryos, according to the study.

Researchers collected fluids surrounding 10 mouse embryos and analyzed the fluids using the computer-controlled chip. Within minutes, the device could accurately measure the metabolism of the embryos from the surrounding fluids. Long-term, the chip could improve the quality of embryos selected for human IVF, and it could also reduce the cost associated with the procedure, according to the study's authors.

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