'Most exciting breakthrough in IVF treatment in 30 years' could triple number of births

Simple technique tchooses the best embryo

Thousands of infertile couples could benefit from a new IVF procedure that can dramatically improve the success rate of having a baby through artificial reproduction.

Scientists believe they can double or even triple the proportion of healthy babies born as a result fertility treatment with a relatively simple technique that takes a series of time-lapse photographs of the developing IVF embryos.

On average only about 24 per cent of IVF embryos implanted into women in the UK lead to live births but the researchers believe this could be increased to 78 per cent using the new technique for selecting the best embryos.

“I believe it is the most exciting breakthrough we've had in probably 30 years,” said Professor Simon Fishel, managing director of the CARE Fertility Group, where the technique was developed.

“Every IVF practice in the world is unintentionally and unwittingly putting back into the womb unviable embryos that don't make babies,” Professor Fishel said.

“We hope to see a paradigm shift in terms of IVF. It's a game changer for everybody to have such an uplift in live birth rates. This is the beginning of something revelatory,” he said

Each year, licensed clinics in Britain carry out about 60,000 IVF treatments but most of them end in failure, causing immense emotional upset to couples, many of whom have paid between £5,000 and £10,000 for each treatment cycle.

The new procedure, which costs £750, identifies the best embryos to be implanted into the womb based on the time it has taken to develop between two key stages in the early life-cycle of the embryo.

Thousands of time-lapse pictures are taken during the first few days of an IVF embryo's life and these are used to identify the time between the first appearance of the fluid-filled cavity, called the blastula, and the final moment before the embryo “hatches” from its protective shell.

Scientists have discovered that when this period lasts longer than about six hours, the IVF embryo is likely to be carrying an abnormal number of chromosomes, called aneuploidy, which will lead to a failure of the pregnancy.

A preliminary study, published in the journal Reproductive Medicine Online and based on a retrospective analysis of 88 IVF embryos of 69 couples, found that the time-lapse technique could have improved the success rate of life births in this particular group of patients from 39 per cent to 61 per cent.

Even better success rates can be expected once the procedure is refined and applied to the wider population of infertile couples seeking IVF treatment, Professor Fishel said.

“Our work has shown that we can easily classify embryos into low or high risk of being chromosomally abnormal. This is important because in itself this is the largest single cause of IVF failure and miscarriage,” he said.

“The beauty of this technology is that the information is provided by a non-invasive process. So far we have seen a 56 per cent uplift compared to conventional technology, giving our patients the equivalent to a 78 per cent live-birth rate,” he added.

Normally, IVF embryos in an incubator are checked manually each day by embryologists but the time-lapse cameras are able to do this automatically by taking pictures every 10 minutes without interfering with embryo development, said Alison Campbell, embryology director at Care Fertility in Nottingham, who developed the computer algorithm controlling the analysis.

“With time-lapse we have the ability to view more than 5,000 images over the same time period to observe and measure more closely each stage of division and growth. As a result of continuous monitoring we have demonstrated that delays at defined points indicate abnormal development,” Ms Campbell said.

Martin Johnson, a fertility expert and editor of the journal where the work is published, said further “prospective” studies comparing the technique to existing methods of embryo selection are still needed before the procedure is recommended as standard treatment. “There are caveats with this research….and for these reasons we have to be cautious,” he said.

Sue Avery, director of Birmingham Women's Fertility Centre, said: “Unfortunately the study does not compare this exciting new approach with standard practise in embryology in which embryologists already look for the best embryos to place in the womb. Until the new technique is compared to current practise we cannot know whether different embryos are being chosen.”

Egg timing: Key stages

The developing embryo (image one, above) goes through two key stages when the fluid-filled cavity or “blastula” first forms (image two) and when the blastula is fully formed before the embryo “hatches” (image three).

The time between the two is used to judge whether the embryo is viable, with no defects in chromosome numbers. If the period is longer than six hours, the embryo is at high risk of abnormal chromosomes, which will inevitably lead to complications. Time-lapse photographs can indicate which embryos have a shorter time-period between these two points, and so which embryos are best for implantation into the womb.

Steve Connor

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Life and Style
i100

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

MFL TEACHER, SUPPLY VACANCY, LOVELY SITTINGBOURNE SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job We are currently recruit...

NQT Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: Randstad Education can provide you wit...

MATHS TEACHER, PERMANENT VACANCY, TONBRIDGE SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is currently ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week