Time-lapse images give new IVF hope.
Nearly every family has someone who has used IVF or is contemplating it in order to start a family. It doesn't always lead to a happy ending because the failure rate is high.
About one in eight couples have trouble having children naturally and there are about 12,200 IVF births a year.
During IVF, a woman's eggs are fertilised in the lab by her partner or a donor's sperm, with the resulting embryo(s) implanted into the womb.
Fewer than 30% of IVF cycles in Britain result in the birth of a healthy baby.
Most fail due to embryonic genetic abnormalities that aren't obvious in the earliest phases of development.
In theory, success rates of IVF could be dramatically improved if you could predict which embryos are healthy. Now, a new time-lapse imaging technique can screen out 'high risk' embryos that are least likely to do well in the womb, offering hope to the thousands of couples who opt for IVF.
In a recent trial, embryos classed by the technology as 'low risk' - read 'likely to succeed' - had a 78% chance of resulting in a live birth, almost triple the national average.
It assessed the likelihood of an embryo having the genetic abnormality known as aneuploidy - the loss or gain of a chromosome and the main cause of failure in IVF.
The procedure identifies two critical points in the early embryo development.
In embryos at high risk of aneuploidy, these two steps occur about six hours later on average, so time-lapse imaging can be used to pick low-risk embryos for implantation.
In a study of 69 couples, a published in Reproductive BioMedicine, scientists used time-lapse imaging of the embryos' development and found low-risk embryos had a 78% chance of resulting in a live birth. This is a huge step towards non-invasive screening, but we still need a randomised controlled trial before the potential can be confirmed. It's also an huge step forward in terms of cost, with IVF costing [euro]3,500 for a single cycle while time-lapse imaging is [euro]870.
As the study was retrospective, it is not possible to tell whether the women who received high-risk embryos would have had a different outcome if another embryo had been picked.
It's also possible some won't be able to produce low-risk embryos, so would have to choose between having a high-risk embryo implanted or abandoning IVF.
This is a huge step towards non-invasive screening