Background: Time-lapse observation presents an opportunity for optimizing embryo selection based on morphological grading as well as providing novel kinetic parameters, which may further improve accurate selection of viable embryos. The objective of this retrospective study was to identify the morphokinetic parameters specific to embryos that were capable of implanting. In order to compare a large number of embryos, with minimal variation in culture conditions, we have used an automatic embryo monitoring system.
Methods: Using a tri-gas IVF incubator with a built-in camera designed to automatically acquire images at defined time points, we have simultaneously monitored up to 72 individual embryos without removing the embryos from the controlled environment. Images were acquired every 15 min in five different focal planes for at least 64 h for each embryo. We have monitored the development of transferred embryos from 285 couples undergoing their first ICSI cycle. The total number of transferred embryos was 522, of which 247 either failed to implant or fully implanted, with full implantation meaning that all transferred embryos in a treatment implanted.
Results: A detailed retrospective analysis of cleavage times, blastomere size and multinucleation was made for the 247 transferred embryos with either failed or full implantation. We found that several parameters were significantly correlated with subsequent implantation (e.g. time of first and subsequent cleavages as well as the time between cleavages). The most predictive parameters were: (i) time of division to 5 cells, t5 (48.8-56.6 h after ICSI); (ii) time between division to 3 cells and subsequent division to 4 cells, s2 (≤ 0.76 h) and (iii) duration of cell cycle two, i.e. time between division to 2 cells and division to 3 cells, cc2 (≤ 11.9 h). We also observed aberrant behavior such as multinucleation at the 4 cell stage, uneven blastomere size at the 2 cell stage and abrupt cell division to three or more cells, which appeared to largely preclude implantation.
Conclusions: The image acquisition and time-lapse analysis system makes it possible to determine exact timing of embryo cleavages in a clinical setting. We propose a multivariable model based on our findings to classify embryos according to their probability of implantation. The efficacy of this classification will be evaluated in a prospective randomized study that ultimately will determine if implantation rates can be improved by time-lapse analysis.