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New Discovery on Embryo Image Processing to Enhance IVF Success Rates

Engineers and biologists at Monash University have worked together to develop a new image processing technique that is non-invasive and useful in visualizing embryo formation. For the first time, researchers were able to view all of the cells in live mammalian embryos as they moved and developed under a microscope. It means that this breakthrough has significant implications for in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments as well as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). The future of medicine looks bright as this approach could be used in embryo selection prior to re-implantation into the uterus to boost IVF success rates.

The newest research called “Cortical Tension Allocates the First Inner Cells of the Mammalian Embryo” was featured in the Development Cell publication and provides new perspective and insights into embryo formation, thereby challenging the existing model of cell placement via division. It was co-authored by Dr. Melanie, Researcher at the Plachta Lab, ARMI (Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute), Rajeev Samarage, PhD candidate mentored and supervised by Monash University Professor at the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, Andreas Fouras and Dr. Yanina Alvarez, University of Buenos Aires.

Mammalian embryos usually begin to develop as a group of identical cells before some of them occupy an internal space within the embryo at an early stage. The internal cells proceed to form all of the other cells of the mammalian body while the rest of the outer cells proceed to form other body tissues like the placenta.

For several years, researchers have put forth theories that the internal cells of mammals adopt their position via a process of cell division. However, this has never been proven due to technological limitations. But through the newly developed superior imaging techniques, the Monash University team of researchers managed to demonstrate that the earlier model of embryo formation was actually wrong. This team then used state-of-the-art laser techniques, previously used in plant and fly embryos, or cultured cells only, to the living mammalian embryo to find out what forces were causing the cells to move inside the mammalian embryo.

With the new imaging techniques, these researchers could also observe how the cells moved while changing their shape over time because of the pressure to develop the internal mass. The team demonstrated that the varying tension of the membranes of the mammalian cells determined which cells would move within to form the rest of the body, and by altering the tension through genetic manipulations or lasers, they could influence and determine which cells could move inside the mammalian embryo.

These research findings are very promising, as they offer the potential to make changes to enhance intercellular forces as well as cell formation. Mr. Samarage stated that their findings present a possibility where changes to the intercellular forces within the cell could enhance embryo viability resulting in better IVF results. The researchers could in future combine the new image segmentation technology with modern non-invasive imaging approaches to observe how human embryos utilized in PGD or IVF first organize their body cells.


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