The Laboratory: Where the Magic Happens
July 25, 2018
By Mandy Katz-Jaffe
Forty years ago on July 25, 1978, Louise Brown, the first baby successfully born through in vitro fertilization (IVF), came into the world. It was a ground-breaking event that set the course for several advancements in fertility science and helped hundreds of thousands of couples create the families of their dreams.
Much of the “magic” that happens at a fertility clinic actually occurs in the lab with embryologists at the helm. Many people don’t realize the importance of embryologists in their IVF journey, so in honor of World Embryologist Day, we’d like to shed some light on this little understood, but extremely critical role at a fertility clinic.
When and why would an embryologist be needed?
As a specialized scientist, an embryologist is needed when a couple is not able to conceive a baby on their own. Embryology is an incredibly meticulous and unique specialty that requires high intellect, great attention to detail, immense concentration, and an intuitive understanding of early human development in order to create viable embryos that will be transferred into a woman’s uterus to establish a pregnancy. Embryologists are real artists at work, mimicking what would happen in the fallopian tubes and uterus, outside of the human body under microscopes.
What is an embryologist’s typical day like?
A regular day for an embryologist is spent in the laboratory, but it is different every day. At CCRM (Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine), embryologists spend years honing their craft, and work on every aspect of an IVF cycle to ensure every team member is well-rounded in their skill sets.
An embryologist’s job begins once the eggs and sperm have been collected. The first step is to isolate the sperm from the semen, and find the microscopic eggs amongst the fluid and cells extracted from the ovaries. On a busy day, a CCRM embryologist could handle up to 80 eggs and 50 embryos.
We’ll combine the egg with the sperm that same day and send to the incubator to fertilize overnight. Following fertilization, the embryologist carefully monitors the embryos, performing appropriate checks for development and grading the embryos as they grow. Embryologists have spent decades developing an embryo grading system for quality, which includes counting the number of cells within the embryo and documenting the different stages of preimplantation embryonic development. Embryologists may also remove a few cells from the embryo to send for genetic testing to ensure the embryo has the correct number of chromosomes. Depending on the patient, embryo(s) will either get transferred into the patient’s uterus on the fifth day or frozen for later use.
Throughout this process, it is vital that the embryologist keeps track and monitors each couple’s eggs, sperm and embryos. We have numerous quality control procedures, alarms, tank redundancies and backup generators in our IVF lab to ensure that safety and privacy are number #1. Embryologists take great pride in their work and feel privileged to help couples fulfill their dream of family.