Technology to Make IVF More Affordable?
Microfluidic Chip Could Someday Lead to a More Targeted Embryo Selection Process, Researchers Say
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
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.