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New IVF technology helps couples conceive

EmbryoScope, an incubator that takes high-resolution pictures of an embryo's development, is allowing doctors to better see which embryos have the best chance at becoming healthy babies. NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

By Kristina Krohn, Medical Fellow, NBC News

Ed and Caroline Marks knew when they got engaged that they wanted a family.

“We talked about babies from that moment,” said Caroline. "We knew we wanted to settle down in the Midwest and raise a family.”

But the Cleveland couple never expected to be pioneers in a new method of in vitro fertilization.

They were both young and healthy, in their early 30s – but after a year of trying, they grew worried.

In July 2011 they decided to get help and Ed went to his doctor.  When he got the results, he “hit rock bottom,” said Caroline.


Ed's sperm count was less than 90 percent of normal, and even then, the sperm he did have were of poor quality and motility. That’s when his doctor referred them to the Cleveland Clinic.

There they found the both had problems that could make conceiving difficult, but Ed’s problem was particularly worrisome. Although his chromosomes were normal, some of his sperm had two instances of chromosome 13 or 14, or were missing a 13 or 14 altogether.

“We felt like the odds were against us,” said Caroline. And she felt like her biological clock was ticking.

After six months working with the infertility specialists, the couple’s doctors chose to use a new technology called EmbyroScope that's allows researchers to monitor the development of fertilized eggs around the clock.

Two other companies have created devices that use similar technologies, but these are only being used experimentally and haven’t yet been FDA approved. 

EmbryoScope, developed by Unisense Fertilitech, was FDA approved in 2011. Ed and Caroline Marks became not only the first couple to use the technology at the Cleveland Clinic, but also the first to become pregnant with it.

Traditionally during IVF, embryos are removed from an incubator once a day for a few minutes to check if the embryo is growing appropriately.  But because embryos grow and change so quickly, researchers can miss important changes or problems by checking only once a day. In addition, taking an embryo out of the incubator risks exposing the sensitive embryo to the outside world.  

“With the EmbryoScope, you are doing continuous imaging,” said Dr. Nina Desai, an obstetrician at the Cleveland Clinic.  “There's a lot going on behind the scenes that, if you just had a single static observation per day, you would miss.”

The EmbryoScope has room for embryos from six different patients. Each couple gets a slide with little wells for up to 12 embryos. Because only six couples can use the EmbryoScope at a time, the clinic limits its use to high risk couples like the Marks with genetic problems who still are capable of producing 12 embryos.

“For an embryologist and a researcher, it's amazing,” said Desai. “We are learning a lot about embryos. We're seeing things that would not have been possible before.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, women younger than 35 years old have a 41.5 percent chance of getting pregnant using traditional IVF.

Unisense Fertilitech claims that rate is higher with EmbryoScope.  The company’s latest study, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility in 2012, examined data from 7,305 cycles of IVF performed at clinics throughout Spain.  Nearly 54 percent of the women became pregnant when their embryos were selected for implantation after incubating in Embryscope, the company says, versus a pregnancy rate of 44.9 percent for those who used standard IVF.

Currently, the 14 facilities offering EmbryoScope charge patients the same price that they would for regular IVF. At the Cleveland Clinic it typically costs around $16,000 per attempt. 

After a year and a half of trying to become pregnant, Ed, 33, and Caroline, 32, are now the proud parents of twins Claire and Charlotte.  The girls were born in December 2012. And while the story of their birth will always be touched by technology, what Ed and Caroline see now is the family they always planned on.

“It was such a journey to get to have these two babies and I think to me that's love,” said Caroline.

The EmbryoScope, which costs medical facilities around $130,000, is being used in at least 26 countries including the following places in the United States:

  • Fertility Centers of new England
  • Boston IVF
  • New York University Langone Medical Center
  • New Hope Fertility, NYC
  • Weill Cornell Medical Center, NYC
  • Reproductive Biology Associates, Atlanta
  • Shady Grove Fertility, Philadelphia
  • A.R.T. Institute of Washington, Washington, D.C.
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Mayo Clinic (MN)
  • Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine
  • A.R.T. Reproductive in Beverly Hills
  • Pacific Reproductive in Torrance (LA area)
  • Seattle Reproductive, Seattle WA

The EmbryoScope will also be coming to IVF Michigan in Rochester Hills, Mich., IVF Florida in Margate, Fla., and Wisconsin’s Reproductive Medicine Center at Froedtert Hospital, among other locations.