The secret life of an embryo seems like a fascinating topic. Embryologists are the ones who know them better than anyone else. They play a very important role in the whole IVF process, working at the crossroads of science and patient care. In this webinar, Theoni Pastroma [Clinical Senior Embryologist at Gennima IVF] explains some of the secrets of the embryology lab and answers attendees’ questions.
According to Theoni Pastroma, the embryology profession involves a wide range of complex responsibilities. A person suited for the job should have many necessary qualities, the most important of which are technical skills (to perform all the lab procedures – both the least and the most complicated ones) and scientific knowledge (to design and choose the best treatments). An embryologist is also responsible for the quality control of equipment and materials used as well as following and complying with the laws and regulations in force. In addition to higher education and experience, each embryologist should be good at judgement and decision making and – very often – at working under pressure and time constraints. Last but not least, they should constantly focus on professional development and training new skills, including social ones, such as exemplary communication with doctors, nurses and patients.
Despite all the embryologists’ skills, it is very important to understand that embryology cannot repair embryos. It can however nurture them and help them achieve their maximum potential. Theoni Pastroma explains that the maximum potential of an embryo can be achieved through a series of steps. It all starts with the careful planning of individualised treatment.
In order to achieve the best IVF treatment results, embryologists collaborate with doctors, nurses, midwives, andrologists, urologists and geneticists. They review couples’ medical history, especially previous IVF attempts, in order to decide what are the best fertilisation techniques to be used in a given case.
The next step is ensuring a safe environment which is crucial to developing embryo culture. For instance, the embryology lab is filtered with specialised filtering systems that reduce potential toxic components in the air. Temperature and humidity in the lab are also controlled by air conditioning systems and working surfaces are heated in order to avoid exposing the embryos to extreme temperature changes. All this leads to creating a “stress-free” environment for the embryo at the time when it is handled and nurtured outside the womb. Apart from taking care of the environment, embryologists also make sure that embryos get all the nutrients they need to develop. Embryos are grown in special culture dishes that are set up with appropriate culture media for every step of embryo development.
Once a safe environment and materials are ensured, the work in the lab begins. Theoni Pastroma reminds us that it is carried out according to strict protocols that are reviewed regularly for potential improvements. It is important to mention here that all these protocols are developed with safety in mind in order to avoid any possible damage to gametes and embryos. Besides, safety in the lab includes labelling and witnessing.
Most of the work done by embryologists takes place in specific time points in order to match the timing of oocyte maturity and embryo development. Additionally, new technologies help embryologists take care of embryos in even a better way. For example, time-lapse incubators such as the EmbryoScope+ allows observing embryos at all times in an undisturbed environment without taking them out throughout the whole course of culture. Using advanced technologies to analyse the time-lapse videos helps embryologists select the best embryos for transfer and freezing. It has been proved that there are clinical benefits of using time-lapse culture and evaluation, such as improved implantation and ongoing pregnancy rate as well as reduced early pregnancy loss.
Moreover, there are also technologies that allow looking after embryos even when embryologists are not in the lab. These include monitoring systems equipped with sensors and alarms, electricity generators and even an emergency evacuation plan for cryopreserved material in case of natural disaster.
As Theoni Pastroma sums up, embryologists look after embryos in all sorts of ways. Through their work, they are able to import unique quality to the whole process of IVF treatment.- Questions and Answers