3 Reasons Why the Embryology Lab Matters at Your Fertility Clinic
You’ve heard it before – a fertility clinic is primarily judged by the quality of its embryology lab. Aside from the experience and skill of the doctors administering your care, the embryology lab is the single most important element of a successful fertility clinic – it’s where all the vital work of embryo development takes place.
There are three key elements that go into a lab’s success – technology, people and a ‘secret sauce’ that marks the way things are done in that lab. It may surprise you that something as precise, technical, sensitive and important as embryo development doesn’t have a standard, but it doesn’t – no two embryology labs are the same. Every practice takes a unique road to the final destination: an embryo ready for transfer.
So what exactly happens in the lab, and which processes vary? Most importantly, what’s the secret sauce that leads to the highest success rates?
The journey of egg, sperm and embryo has many parts, all of which require the most advanced, well-functioning, sophisticated and reliable technology to complete various steps in the process, from ICSI to biopsy to cryopreservation to thawing. Simply put, when you have technology and processes on which you can rely inside the lab, the embryos benefit.
Here’s what happens inside the lab: on retrieval day, the woman is sedated and an ultrasound guided needle is inserted through her vagina directly into the ovary to retrieve her eggs. The needle goes inside each follicle to draw out the fluid within which the microscopic egg lies. Afterward, the fluid is poured into special dishes, and the egg (and soon to be embryo) begins its journey through the lab.
This is where the embryologist’s role begins in earnest.
The embryologist searches the fluid for the Cumulus-Oocyte Complex, or COC, which contains the egg. Once found, the embryologist does this for the remaining fluid and the patient is informed of how many eggs she is starting off with. Next, the embryologist strips the eggs of the remaining cumulus cells and the eggs are incubated.
Later that day, the eggs are taken out of the incubator and stripped once more and then combined with sperm. Either a cloud of sperm is placed on top of a group of eggs, or a single sperm is injected into the egg (ICSI) by an experienced and skilled embryologist. The mixture of egg and sperm is incubated once more.
The next morning, the egg is examined to see if it has successfully been fertilized, after which it is referred to as an embryo. The embryo is incubated yet again with minimal disturbance over the following week, in hopes that it will grow to the stage that indicates it could one day become a person. The parameters around that growth are, in a way, the secret sauce.
So there is the technology and the embryologists, and then there is everything else – that’s the secret sauce.
This includes the materials used in the lab, the way in which the embryos are handled, the timing of when steps are performed, the rigor with which they are performed, and all the other variables that are too difficult to measure. Even though many clinics will perform similar procedures and techniques, they will perform them in slightly different ways, leading to variations that set some clinics apart from others.
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