Preliminary trials of a specific gravity technique in the determination of early embryo growth potential†

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S.D. Prien,1,2,* C.E. Wessels,2 and L.L. Penrose1

. 2015 Sep; 30(9): 2076–2083.
Published online 2015 Jul 22. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dev178
PMCID: PMC4542720
PMID: 26202920

Abstract

STUDY QUESTION

Can a modified specific gravity technique be used to distinguish viable from nonviable embryos?

SUMMARY ANSWER

Preliminary data suggests a modified specific gravity technique can be used to determine embryo viability and potential for future development.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY

Single embryo transfer (SET) is fast becoming the standard of practice. However, there is currently no reliable method to ensure development of the embryo transferred.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION

A preliminary, animal-based in vitro study of specific gravity as a predictor of embryo development using a mouse model.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS

After a brief study to demonstrate embryo recovery, experiments were conducted to assess the ability of the specific gravity system (SGS) to distinguish between viable and nonviable embryos. In the first study, 1-cell mouse embryos were exposed to the SGS with or without previous exposure to an extreme heat source (60°C); measurements were repeated daily for 5 days. In the second experiment, larger pools of 1-cell embryos were either placed directly in culture or passed through the SGS and then placed in culture and monitored for 4 days.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE

In the first experiment, viable embryos demonstrated a predictable pattern of descent time over the first 48 h of development (similar to previous experience with the SGS), while embryos that were heat killed demonstrated significantly altered drop patterns (P < 0.001); first descending faster. In the second experiment, average descent times were different for embryos that stalled early versus those that developed to blastocyst (P < 0.001). Interestingly, more embryos dropped through the SGS developed to blastocyst than the culture control (P < 0.01).

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION

As this is a preliminary report of the SGS technology determining viability, a larger embryo population will be needed. Further, the current in vitro study will need to be followed by fecundity studies prior to application to a human population.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS

If proven, the SGS would provide a noninvasive means of assessing embryos prior to transfer after assisted reproductive technologies procedures, thereby improving fecundity and allowing more reliable SET.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S)

The authors gratefully acknowledge the funding support of the U.S. Jersey Association, the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant through the Undergraduate Science Education Program to Texas Tech University. None of the authors have any conflict of interest regarding this work.

TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER

none.

Keywords: embryo development, embryo selection, embryo viability, specific gravity, buoyance, noninvasive, zygote, blastocyst

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