Performance of a deep learning based neural network in the selection of human blastocysts for implantation

Elife. 2020 Sep 15:9:e55301. doi: 10.7554/eLife.55301.


Deep learning in in vitro fertilization is currently being evaluated in the development of assistive tools for the determination of transfer order and implantation potential using time-lapse data collected through expensive imaging hardware. Assistive tools and algorithms that can work with static images, however, can help in improving the access to care by enabling their use with images acquired from traditional microscopes that are available to virtually all fertility centers. Here, we evaluated the use of a deep convolutional neural network (CNN), trained using single timepoint images of embryos collected at 113 hr post-insemination, in embryo selection amongst 97 clinical patient cohorts (742 embryos) and observed an accuracy of 90% in choosing the highest quality embryo available. Furthermore, a CNN trained to assess an embryo's implantation potential directly using a set of 97 euploid embryos capable of implantation outperformed 15 trained embryologists (75.26% vs. 67.35%, p<0.0001) from five different fertility centers.

Keywords: blastocysts; convolutional neural networks; embryology; euploid embryos; human; human embryos; in - vitro fertilization; medicine.

Plain language summary

Around one in seven couples have trouble conceiving, which means there is a high demand for solutions such as in vitro fertilization, also known as IVF. This process involves fertilizing and developing embryos in the laboratory and then selecting a few to implant into the womb of the patient. IVF, however, only has a 30% success rate, is expensive and can be both mentally and physically taxing for patients. Selecting the right embryos to implant is therefore extremely important, as this increases the chance of success, minimizes complications and ensures the baby will be healthy. Currently the tools available for making this decision are limited, highly subjective, time-consuming, and often extremely expensive. As a result, embryologists often rely on their experience and observational skills when choosing which embryos to implant, which can lead to a lot of variability. An automated system based on artificial intelligence (AI) could therefore improve IVF success rates by assisting embryologists with this decision and ensuring more consistent results. The AI system could learn how embryos develop over time and then uses this information to select the best embryos to implant from just a single image. This would offer a cheaper alternative to current analysis tools that are only available at the most expensive IVF clinics. Now, Bormann, Kanakasabapathy, Thirumalaraj et al. have developed an AI system for IVF based on thousands of images of embryos. Using individual images, the system selected embryos of a comparable quality to those selected by a human specialist. It also showed a greater ability to identify embryos that will lead to successful implantation. Indeed, the software outperformed 15 embryologists from five different centers across the United States in detecting which embryos were most likely to implant out of a group of high-quality embryos with few visible differences. Artificial intelligence has many potential applications to support expert clinical decision-making. Systems like these could improve success, reduce errors and lead to faster, cheaper and more accessible results. Beyond immediate IVF applications, this system could also be used in research and industry to help understand differences in embryo quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Blastocyst / classification*
  • Blastocyst / cytology
  • Blastocyst / physiology
  • Deep Learning*
  • Female
  • Fertilization in Vitro / methods*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Male
  • Microscopy
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome