An IVF technique that takes thousands of snapshots of a developing embryo can help avoid miscarriages and improve live birth success, it is claimed.
Researchers used the technique to select “low risk” embryos not likely to have chromosomal abnormalities.
Their chances of producing a successful live birth were increased by 56%, compared with all embryos.
The time lapse imaging method spots developmental delays in the embryo at crucial stages which may indicate aneuploidy, a condition in which cells have extra or missing chromosomes.
Aneuploidy is common in human embryos and a major cause of fertility treatment failure and miscarriage.
Most affected embryos will not implant in the womb. If they do, they can result in a miscarriage or the birth of a child with a chromosomal disorder such as Down’s syndrome.
Traditional techniques for spotting aneuploidy involve removing cells from embryos and genetic screening.
Time lapse imaging offers a non-invasive and simpler alternative that can assist couples seeking In-Vitro Fertilisation treatment.
Alison Campbell, embryology director at IVF clinic operators CARE Fertility, who led the research, said: “Our key finding was that embryos from the high-risk class (for aneuploidy) showed no implantation at all.
“The highest implantation as well as live birth potential was found for embryos from our low-risk class. From this we conclude that our algorithms for risk classification of aneuploidy can be applied to all IVF patients in order to allow for selection of embryos with a higher potential to implant and produce a live birth.”
In most IVF labs, a developing embryo yet to be transferred to a womb will be checked up to six times over a five-day period.
Time lapse imaging allows more than 5,000 snapshots to be taken over the same time period.
“As a result of continuous monitoring we have demonstrated that delays at defined time points indicate abnormal development,” said Ms Campbell.
The research appears in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online.
Professor Simon Fishel, managing director of CARE Fertility Group, said: “In the 35 years I have been in this field this is probably the most exciting and significant development that can be of value to all patients seeking IVF.”
Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield and chair of the British Fertility Society, said: “This paper is interesting because we really do need to make advances in selecting the best embryos created during IVF.
“The idea of monitoring embryo development more closely is being used increasing in clinics around the world and so it is good to see the science involved submitted to peer review and publication.
“All too often developments in IVF are trumpeted as advances when they remain unproven.”
Stuart Lavery, consultant gynaecologist and director of IVF at Hammersmith Hospital, London, said: “Time lapse imaging of the early development of human embryos offers the exciting potential of a novel and non-invasive way of selecting the embryo with the greatest chance of implantation outside the womb.”
All the scientists agreed that a randomised trial was needed comparing time lapse imaging with conventional techniques.
Sue Avery, director of Birmingham Women’s Fertility Centre, said: “Until the new technique is compared to current practice we cannot know whether different embryos are being chosen.
“The IVF community needs a prospective randomised controlled trial to prove that the new approach delivers better results before it can be recommended to patients.”