Fertility researchers have used DNA fingerprinting for the first time to identify which embryos have implanted after in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and developed successfully to result in the births of healthy babies.
The technique, combined with sampling cells from blastocysts (the very early embryo) before implantation in the womb, opens the way to pin-pointing a handful of genes that could be used to identify those blastocysts most likely to result in a successful pregnancy.
The research is published online in Europe’s leading reproductive medicine journal, Human Reproduction.
When couples attend fertility clinics for IVF, eggs from the woman are fertilised with sperm from the man and then the fertilised eggs are allowed to develop in the laboratory until they reach the blastocyst stage after about five days . Before the blastocysts are implanted into the woman’s womb, a decision has to be made about how many should be implanted and which ones look most likely to develop successfully.
Currently there is no reliable way of differentiating between viable and non-viable blastocysts, and clinic staff tend to decide on the basis of some fairly crude tests, which include looking at the form (morphology) of the blastocyst. The result is that couples often opt to have more than one blastocyst implanted in order to increase their chances of a successful pregnancy; but this runs the risk of multiple pregnancies with all the associated dangers to both the mothers and babies.
When multiple embryos are transferred, it then becomes impossible to work out which are the ones that developed into a successful pregnancy, making it difficult to develop criteria for identifying viable blastocysts.
Researchers believe that their findings will revolutionise IVF by improving pregnancy rates and eliminating multiple pregnancies.
Novel strategy with potential to identify developmentally competent IVF blastocysts. Human Reproduction. Published online under advance access. doi:10.1093/humrep/den123.
Source: European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, Belgium