A new IVF method involving time-lapse monitoring to identify the most viable embryos does not improve pregnancy rates or reduce the time it takes to get pregnant, according to a study published in The Lancet. Furthermore, this method is also more expensive than the traditional approach.
Patients undergoing IVF treatment often produce several usable embryos. The lab then chooses which ones will be transferred. This decision depends on how well the embryos divide during the first three to five days after fertilisation. As such, it’s a routine procedure to remove embryos from the incubator and check them under a microscope.
The idea is that using time-lapse incubators — using cameras inside the incubators to record the development of each embryo — would eliminate this process. The embryos wouldn’t need to be removed from the incubator and would be kept in perfect conditions at all times.
More and more clinics are using this technology and promising parents that time-lapse monitoring will increase their chances of getting pregnant. In theory, this should be the case, but there haven’t been any clinical trials to actually evaluate these claims.
To cover this gap, a team from Amsterdam UMC evaluated IVF results from over 1700 patients from 15 fertility clinics between 2017 and 20121. This is the largest clinical trial ever performed to assess the effect of time-lapse monitoring on pregnancy rates.
For this study, traditional IVF was compared to IVF with time-lapsing monitoring. The authors compared not only individual embryo transfers but also the number of patients who became pregnant after one year.
About half of the patients became pregnant during the study period. The results show that using time-lapse monitoring didn’t improve pregnancy rates, nor it reduced the time for patients to get pregnant. In addition, after embryo transfer, pregnancy rates did not differ between study groups. Overall, this study clearly shows that using a time-lapse incubator and a computerised embryo selection method doesn’t improve the chances of success of an IVF treatment.
Given these results, a time-lapse incubator is an expensive piece of equipment for clinics and hospitals that may not necessarily benefit the patients more than using conventional incubators. “IVF centres across the world feel the pressure to offer the latest technology to their patients. New devices or techniques are regularly introduced without evidence from scientific studies which demonstrate that they indeed increase pregnancy chances. New doesn’t necessarily mean better,” says clinical embryologist Dorit Kieslinger.
Kieslinger DC, Vergouw CG, Ramos L, Arends B, et al. Clinical outcomes of uninterrupted embryo culture with or without time-lapse-based embryo selection versus interrupted standard culture (SelecTIMO): a three-armed, multicentre, double-blind, randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2023 Mar 30:S0140-6736(23)00168-X. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(23)00168-X.