The Embryoscope arrives at the Clinic
Feb 12 • 2014

Embryoscope time-lapse Incubator allows real-time observation of developing embryos

The clue is in our job title… Embryologists..  We walk, talk and sometimes almost dream about anything new to do with embryo care and are always excited by new ideas! The laboratory at The Lister Fertility Clinic already uses 18 state-of-the-art mini incubators but we are now pleased to have extended this to include an Embryoscope Time-Lapse Incubator. 

What is time-lapse?

The fundamental idea of time-lapse imaging has been around for a while and basically means being able to take multiple images of something then put them all together to make a short video. Most people have probably seen a short video of a flower budding and opening in a nature programme and we are now able to apply this method to watching human embryos develop.

Fertility treatment has come a long way since the birth of Louise Brown and The Lister Fertility Clinic is always keen to embrace new ideas and invest into new equipment. The Embryoscope system is already used by a number of clinics in Europe so it is a validated system and over IVF 100,000 cycles have been carried out using it.

What do we hope to see?

The time-lapse facility means pictures are taken of each embryo at regular times which can then be viewed as a short video. Embryos should follow a timeline of development and by placing them in an incubator with this time lapse facility, the development cycle can be observed.

The ideal trajectory for embryo development begins with the entry of a single sperm into an egg resulting in normal fertilisation, then the development of a 2-4 cell embryo by the second day and a 5-8 cell embryo by the third day. The number of cells should continue to increase and by day 4 these cells should have started to compact, forming the morula.  This is actually the Latin word for mulberry and this is quite a fitting description for how the embryos appear! By day 5 or day 6 the cells of the embryo should have reached the blastocyst stage, where two types of cells can be identified. 

Human embryos can sometimes stop growing quite naturally in the first few days after fertilisation, so the ideal scenario is to generate extra embryos in each IVF cycle. This enables those embryos that continue to develop to be selected from the group, something that blastocyst culture is already often used to achieve. The Lister Fertility Clinic laboratory team is expert in blastocyst culture and the embryoscope will allow embryos to be cultured up until day 5 to enable the full development of an embryo to be observed.

The time-lapse generated images from the embryos may show an event in an embryo’s development that would have not otherwise been observed. In IVF, embryos are generally kept in the incubators as much as possible. The incubators provide the most stable environment for embryo development so embryo checks are usually kept to a minimum to preserve this stability. Hence the time lapse acts as a 24 hour observation tool, something not previously possible in a clinical setting!

So who might it help?

It is important to remember that the Embryoscope is just an observation tool so may not be useful to everyone for their treatment. Here at the Lister we believe in tailoring your treatment to you as an individual, we don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The Embryoscope may be something that your Consultant or an Embryologist at the Lister suggests using in your treatment cycle. Patients that have already had several attempts at IVF without any implantation may particularly want to consider adding the option of the Embryoscope to their IVF treatment plan.

At the end of the cycle you will get a report on your embryo development and the chance to watch the time lapse images. We see them every day and still get excited by them!

Victoria Wells
Senior Clinical Embryologist