Time lapse imaging which takes thousands of pictures of developing embryos can boost the success rate of IVF according to British research. The method which is reported in Reproductive Biomedicine On-line can be used to select embryos at low risk of defect.

Scientists of CARE Fertility Group say such informed selection can improve birth rates by 56% - other experts say the result is exciting but the study of 69 couples is too small to be definitive.

The research followed the couples at the CARE Fertility Clinic in Manchester last year when 88 embryos were imaged and implanted. 

The embryos were put into an incubator and imaged every 10 to 20 minutes. The research classified the embryos as low, medium or high risk of chromosome abnormalities based on their development at certain key points. 11 babies were born from the low risk group which was a 61% success rate, compared to five from the medium risk group - a 19% success rate - and none from those deemed high risk.

“In the 35 years I have been in this field this is probably the most exciting and significant development that can be of value to all patients seeking IVF” said Professor Simon Fishel, Managing Director of CARE Fertility Group. 

This technology can tell us which embryo is the most viable and has the highest potential to deliver a live birth.  It will have a huge potential, it is almost like having the embryo in the womb with a camera on them. In standard IVF, embryos are removed from the incubator once a day to be checked under the microscope. This means they briefly leave their temperature controlled environment and single daily snapshots of their development is possible.  Using the time lapse method, embryos don’t leave the incubator until they are implanted allowing 5,000 images to be taken.

Removing embryos from the incubator potentially exposes them to damage so it must be a good thing to be able to look at the pattern of development over time. The results are interesting, this is a very small study and any interpretation of the findings must be made with caution as we are dealing with hopes and expectations of patients. Around a dozen private and NHS clinics are using time lapse embryo imaging. It costs around £750, in addition to about £3,000 for IVF. 

Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashton KCJ, comments: “This is obviously very exciting for the world of IVF and hopefully larger and more significant studies will be undertaken which will give a more accurate picture.”