Embryo quality – what can be done differently when your IVF failed?

Marta Wojciechowska, PhD
Senior Embryologist

Embryo Implantation, Embryo Transfer, Failed IVF Cycles

Embryo quality - what can be done differently when your IVF failed? #OnlinePatientMeeting
From this video you will find out:
  • How the embryo quality can cause a failed IVF attempt?
  • What are other reasons that can cause IVF failure?
  • How can PGT-A/PGS help if I had unsuccessful attempts?
  • Using an embryo monitoring system like Embryoscope or TimeLapse?
  • Is it better to transfer embryo on day 3 or day 5?


IVF failure and embryo quality - a different approach

During this OnlinePatientMeeting, Marta Wojciechowska, Senior Embryologist, Head of Embryology Laboratory at InviMed Gdynia, Poland, answered patients’ questions about failed IVF due to embryo quality and revealed what can be done differently after IVF failure.

- Questions and Answers

How the embryo quality can cause a failed IVF attempt? What are other reasons that can cause IVF failure?

The embryo does not divide well, an embryo with bad quality, with a lot of fragmentation, when it fails to develop to the blastocyst stage, it cannot implant. The second questions depend on the patient medical history, like the number of previous cycles, number of associated illnesses which also can affect embryo quality. As an embryologist, I look at the quality of oocytes and the quality of sperm, I need to look at what I see under my microscope.

How can PGT-A/PGS help if I had unsuccessful attempts?

The pre-implantation genetic diagnostics it will not improve the embryo quality, it’s strongly recommended that if there is a risk of genetical disease or patient is f. e. carrier of translocations that will affect pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage. In our clinic, Invimed genetic analysis of embryos is performed at the blastocyst stage, so we need to perform full blastocyst culture, observe it during the five or six days. We need to obtain good quality embryos to make the analysis, but if during the analysis we will obtain results that some healthy embryos, we will transfer those embryos and see if it has implanted. Possibly, a previous implantation failure was due to genetical errors.

Using an embryo monitoring system like Embryoscope or TimeLapse? Does it have an impact on embryo quality?

I cannot say that it will have an impact, but it’s a very useful tool for the embryologist to choose their best top-quality embryo for transfer or freezing or genetic analysis. In the time-lapse analysis, we can observe every step of development from the very beginning, from fertilization until the development of blastocyst. There are various parameters that we consider f.e., the time of the cleavage created, cleavage to 4 cells, then to 8 cells etc. Thanks to this, we can be sure that our chosen embryo is that embryo that will end up in the pregnancy.

What can you do in the IVF lab if Male factor is involved? What’s the difference between IMSI, PICSI and other techniques?

In our laboratory and many clinics that perform it, we have several techniques that help us to choose the best sperm. We perform sperm preparation techniques like swim-up, density gradient centrifugation and lately we are also using more advanced techniques for selection of the sperm, like microfluidic techniques or the FertileChip. It allows us to choose the best sperm, and then we use more sophisticated techniques to inject the sperm to increase the chance of successful fertilization. IMSI is a selection of sperm under the high magnification on a microscope, in our clinic, it is MIC6600. PICSI allows us to choose the sperm that are functionally mature, it is based on the attachment of mature sperm to the hyaluronic acid, when the sperm attaches, the embryologist chooses the right sperm, it really can increase the fertilization rate.

Is it better to transfer embryo on day 3 or day 5?

It all depends because paternal genome activates on day-3 so the embryo by itself starts to manage its own development. On day-5 which is the blastocyst. In our clinic, we have good results with transfers on day-2-3 and day-5. Recently we transfer day-5 embryos almost every time transfer, at the blastocyst stage transfers. In most cases, there is a higher chance of implantation. As an embryologist, I can say that I love blastocysts because they are very beautiful, and I love how they develop, how they behave.

May embryo freezing/thawing impact the quality of an embryo?

Modern techniques like vitrification that we are using nowadays do not impact embryo quality because it’s almost 100% of survival of embryos after verification technique. From my experience as an embryologist, I can tell you that it’s a safe method and allows our patients to keep their material for the moment that it will be needed.

If the embryo doesn’t form a blastocyst until Day 5-6, is it more likely to be genetically abnormal?

I would also point out the sperm factor would be involved because if the embryo does not develop beyond day-3, we need to consider the sperm factor. If it’s genetically abnormal it would be hard to check it as we examine the embryos that are fully developed. The answer would be to check these embryos at day-3, however, in our clinics, all the biopsies of embryos are performed at day-5.

Are there any other techniques you can use in the IVF lab that may help with embryo quality?

Regarding other techniques, the point is that we do not use them just to check if they work. We need to have a strong recommendation to use any additional techniques. F.e. assisted hatching – when the embryo has some problems with hatching from the zona pellucida we perform assisted hatching, we cut the zona and, after the transfer, the embryos can easily go out. We have to have a strong indication to perform that. There are other techniques, of course, each clinic has its own cultural system, and there are optimized to ensure the best conditions to the embryos.

I am aged 27, we have low sperm count which is our issue. We had 3 transfers, all blastocyst that didn’t t implant. We have to start again. I’ve been tested for immunology, blood count, and all seems normal at my end. 

If it’s your first cycle, I think that the clinician would recommend trying again because failure in the first cycle does not determine that the chance of success is zero. The number and quality of the eggs and the embryos generated from these eggs can be markedly different even when the stimulation protocol would be the same. Sometimes, the doctors could consider the alteration of the stimulation protocol, but it should be discussed strongly with the doctor. Moreover, if the patient is under chronological control, it also should be consulted. Techniques I’ve mentioned before for a sperm selection allow to improve the effect of fertilization, so if it’s the first cycle I would say that it’s worth trying once again to see if the reaction of the organism would be different.

I am 39 years old. I have tried IVF(ICSI) twice, each resulted in 9 mature eggs. However, only 2 eggs fertilised and none reached the blastocyst stage. I have used two different sperm donors, so it seems my egg quality is the problem. Is there anything I can do to improve my chances? I tried taking CoQ10 and DHEA before the second attempt.

You had tried it three times, and well as I said at the beginning, the age is our greatest enemy in reproduction. After 35 years of age, our fertility declines dramatically. In our clinic, specialists recommend considering egg donation program after two or three failed IVF cycles. As I am an embryologist, I cannot say, you should move on to the egg donation, it must be an independent decision of patient and with the clinician. With three failed cycles, with low fertilization rate because two eggs from nine mature eggs is a very small number and none of them reached the blastocyst stage, even with using donor sperm. I would say that perhaps it is time to consider other options.

Does endometriosis or uterine inflammation affect egg quality?

As far as I know, there is evidence that the endometriosis can affect egg quality because of the constant inflammation process in the organism. The oocytes are that are affected by endometriosis are under constant stress, and their functions can be impaired after fertilization. As an embryologist, I often had the opportunity to see oocytes extracted from the ovaries that were affected by endometriosis. These oocytes were markedly changed. I couldn’t assess the quality as good. I must say that yes, endometriosis and uterine inflammation affects the egg quality.

Is it true that the drug protocol you are on can affect your egg quality?

The quality can be markedly different even when using the same protocol, and I was looking at some papers recently, and I couldn’t find any strong evidence that similar protocol affects its markedly. I’ve seen that mild stimulations are more beneficial, but as an embryologist, I cannot speak about stimulation protocols with 100% certainty. I would rather address this question to the clinician.

Does in vitro maturation (IVM) influence oocyte quality and as a consequence embryo quality?

We draw immature oocytes and allow them to run through the maturation process in the laboratory. The laboratory conditions are created to mimic the natural environment, but it will never be perfect. In my experience and my lab, we use in vitro maturation techniques, and we had embryos that reached the blastocyst stage, and they successfully implant. The oocytes quality is what we are born with, and good oocytes will correctly mature in the culture and after fertilization will produce a good embryo.

So time-lapse incubator doesn’t affect the embryos by having many pictures taken of them at such regular intervals?

No, because it’s designed in the way that it would not affect embryos. First of all, embryos are not taken out from the incubator, and they are placed in an incubator after the moment of fertilization, after that they are taken out for the embryo transferred, after three or five days. The camera does not affect the embryos by some radiation or something like that. The only thing that determines the quality of the embryos is the genetical material of the parents that created it.

The quality of the oocytes is influenced by maternal age and others. Could the vitrification be one solution to preserve the quality of the eggs?

I would say that, yes. Social freezing is considered by many women when they are close to reaching 35 years of age. They have plans to have children, but later on in life, it’s all personal, I will not interfere with that. According to Polish law, vitrification of oocytes is allowed only in oncological cases. When a 38-year-old woman has frozen oocytes that she vitrified 10 years ago, and she’d like to use them, she will have a high chance of getting pregnant.

Could the microbiota have an impact on seminal quality? 

We do not expect any microbes in the sperm, so if there’s any inflammation or bacterial fungi or even virus, the semen quality will be impaired because the organ is moved to defend against this inflammation process. In our clinics, in certain cases, we recommend the bacteriological analysis of sperm just to eliminate the possibility of an adverse effect of microbes on the sperm.

Does it happen sometimes that PGT-A gives a false result and it can happen that a healthy embryo will be marked as an aneuploid one and won’t be transferred?

I must admit that I would like to have these questions to be sent to me because I’m not an expert on PGT-A so I would like to check it with my colleagues. I don’t want to give false answers. From the experience of my colleagues, the reliability of the test is very high, and I did not hear about this false-positive or false-negative result.

Do you use EmbryoGen culture media in your clinic? Do you recommend it? If it’s used, do you need to switch to BlastGen at Day 3? What happens if you don’t? And if you use the Time Lapse, it’s just a one culture media?

We don’t use EmryoGen media. Our system includes one-step media and time-lapse system. It is hard for me to advise and recommend it, as we do not use it.

What is the most recommended method of assisted hatching?

There are two methods of assisted hatching that we use in our clinic, it’s mechanical, just cutting with a sharp laser under the microscope and most popular is the laser methods we make a small hole in the zona pellucida of the embryo, just to facilitate the exit from the shell. The laser method is faster, however, an experienced embryologist will be able to cut the zona very quick and without possible harm to to the embryo.

Is there any diet or lifestyle choice which improve embryo quality?

We are born with the oocytes, this definite number of oocytes and those will create our embryos. The diet is very important, in our clinic, we have a special person to advise wich diet and what types of food you should eat. There are so many protocols of diet that will influence the overall well-being of the patients. It would also increase the chances of becoming parents. I’ll be happy to connect you with a dietician that we work with to provide you with all the details.

Does it make a sense to transfer blastocysts frozen by slow vitrification or the chances for them to survive and implant are just too low?

The fact is, when the blastocyst survives the process of thawing, it will be ready to implant. If they survive and it looks good, the embryo should be transferred because blastocysts are very resistant to freezing condition and they behave quite nicely after thawing.

I would like to know if the male age can influence sperm quality in terms of competence. I mean, the competence of the spermatozoa can be influenced by male age?

The latest research data show us that in men that reached a certain age, men who turn 50, they have a higher percentage of sperm DNA fragmentation. If the sperm DNA fragmentation is beyond some safe level, it can cause fertilization failure. If the embryo will be created and the pregnancy would happen, it will increase the chances of miscarriage.
Exploring Male Fertility – all you need to know about semen analysis
IVF for women over 40 – options and insights
Creating Fertility Awareness: Navigating Your Journey with Holistic Insights and Medical Know-How
Choosing the right clinic for your treatment: One of the most important decisions you’ll ever make
How will this affect my future child? 40+ intended parents’ concerns (age, donor conception, single motherhood)
Fertility coaching: what is it, and why might I need it?
Marta Wojciechowska, PhD

Marta Wojciechowska, PhD

Marta Wojciechowska is a Senior Embryologist, Head of Embryology Laboratory in InviMed Gdynia, Poland. Senior Clinical Embryologist ESHRE. She is a member of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) and the Polish Society of Reproductive Medicine and Embryology (PTMRiE). She completed her PhD in 2005.
Event Moderator
Caroline Kulczycka

Caroline Kulczycka

Caroline Kulczycka is managing MyIVFAnswers.com and has been hosting IVFWEBINARS dedicated to patients struggling with infertility since 2020. She's highly motivated and believes that educating patients so that they can make informed decisions is essential in their IVF journey. In the past, she has been working as an International Patient Coordinator, where she was helping and directing patients on their right path. She also worked in the tourism industry, and dealt with international customers on a daily basis, including working abroad. In her free time, you’ll find her travelling, biking, learning new things, or spending time outdoors.