After egg retrieval, many IVF patients are anxious to know how their embryos are developing in the embryology lab. It's an exciting but difficult part of the IVF process for patients, because they want the best outcome and want to make sure everything is going well in the lab.
However, after the embryos are checked for fertilization (day 1), they are not looked at again until the day of their transfer. Your fertility specialist may give an educated opinion regarding how many embryos might make it to the blastocyst stage, based on looking at their morphology and knowing the relevant statistics, but embryos' quality will be determined only on days 5 and 6.
Many factors influence blastocyst formation, such as egg quality, sperm quality, maternal and paternal genome, metabolic factors, intracellular factors—and environmental factors. Because of these environmental factors, just looking at the embryos every day could do damage to them on an intracellular level. Once in the incubator, the embryos are tucked away safely within a controlled environment. If they were to be taken out of the incubator, they would be exposed to changes such as:
Volatile organic compounds (VOC)
All of the above can stress the embryo and disrupt development. At this early stage of embryonic growth, the embryo does not have all the proper mechanisms to fight off changes. Fertilization and growth usually take place inside the body, where it is dark and warm; but in the IVF process, they are exposed to light. Light can affect embryonic development directly by being toxic or indirectly via photo-oxidation of components in the media or oil. Also, removal from the protective environment can bring them into contact with VOC, which could attach directly to DNA and abort growth.
Qualified fertility clinics consistently take measures in their labs to ensure patients' embryos are in a safe environment, even for the small amount of time it takes to check and transfer them.
For example, at InVia Fertility Specialists, we don't allow perfume or strongly scented deodorants in the lab, because they release toxins into the air. We recently installed a high-quality air filtration system to reduce the amount of volatile organic compounds and purify the air. Also, we constantly monitor every incubator and every space for temperature and pH fluctuations. Lights are kept low, and our media may contain some buffers and oils to control outside factors.
As a patient, it's natural to want day-to-day updates. For many patients, understanding why embryos need to be kept protected is helpful as they await information from their fertility specialist.
Kelly Schorsch is one of the members of the Embryology team at InVia Fertility. She works in both the Andrology and Embryology sections. She completed her graduate studies at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Clinical Embryology and Andrology and her undergraduate studies at Roosevelt University with a major in Biology, minor in Chemistry, and certificate in Biotechnology. She loves to be behind the scenes in the laboratory to help couples achieve their dreams of one day having a baby.