Dr. Shehua Shen, M.D., had spent decades spying on microscopic embryos which are the product of in vitro fertilization. Using her trained eye she evaluates which ones should have the highest chance of success following implantation. But now she believes new software will make that selection even more precise.
"My feeling was, 'Wow! This is going to make some difference,'" says Shen.
At Menlo Park-based Auxogyn, Shen and her colleagues have developed a system to track the growth of embryos using cameras placed inside the incubators. Rather than removing the embryos to examine them at specific intervals, the system produces time lapse videos, rich with information.
The key according to Shen is evaluating the images as they progress. To do that, the team turned to visual recognition software developed at Stanford University. It's able to identify growth patterns and gene expression consistent in healthy embryo development. The system, known commercially as Eeva, then rates the embryos in the first two days after fertilization and displays color keyed results.
"That means Eeva determined based on predictive parameters, this embryo has a higher chance to grow into a blastocyst," explains Shen.
Carl Herbert, M.D., is with Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco, which participated in clinical trials for Eeva. He believes an improved method of evaluation could eventually lessen the need to implant multiple embryos, which carries the risk of multiple births.
"What we want to do, and what everyone should be striving to do, is to put back a single embryo as often as we can to prevent multiple gestation," says Herbert.
The system is still investigational. The company has submitted clinical trial data to the FDA. Shen sees the prospect of an automated system that could increase the effectiveness of IVF as a major advance.
"This is going to change what we do in the laboratory, with the potential of significant improvement," she says.
Written and produced by Tim Didion