Embryo selection biomarkers help reduce time to pregnancy
Scientists at Virtus Health have identified two biological markers to improve embryo selection for IVF patients, which should help them to get pregnant sooner. The team’s study is part of an entirely new field known as metaboloepigenetics, and was led by Distinguished Professor David Gardner and published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics.
As explained by Prof Gardner, who serves as Virtus Health’s Group Director of ART, Scientific Innovation & Research, “Current embryo selection is based on assessing visual changes of the embryo dividing and reaching key developmental milestones, using time-lapse video vision over five days of the incubation period.
“Many research projects have tried to look for an elusive biomarker — molecules that can indicate embryo health, like a protein or a peptide, something that the embryo produces as a signalling marker. To date, no research has come up with anything that is conclusive or shown to be prospectively useful.
“This new research found slow-dividing embryos, which are associated with higher implantation failure, have differences in aspartate and glucose uptake. Analysing the aspartate and glucose consumption rates can represent biomarkers of embryo development and may therefore improve embryo selection efficacy and pregnancy rates.”
Prof Gardner has been researching metabolic embryo health since the 1980s, when he first started researching embryo glucose consumption. He revealed, “Research has since shown that glucose is a good biomarker of human embryo health, but this new landmark study is the first of its kind internationally to combine two biomarkers for embryo selection: glucose and the amino acid aspartate, which makes it so unique.
“We now plan to develop this research and apply it clinically into IVF laboratory technology. The challenge is applying this very complicated biochemistry concept, where we’ve used very expensive metabolomic screens, to translate this to a benchtop laboratory apparatus.”
The study was co-written by Dr Lisa Lee, Lab Manager at Virtus Health member Melbourne IVF. “We have created a specific and accurate assay for the amino acid aspartate. It’s a real-time assay which we can run in our own laboratory and it’s the first time a study has reported on this type of assay.”
Prof Gardner said the biomarker research is also capable of predicting what will happen post-embryo implantation, noting, “We found embryos that divide faster not only have differences in aspartate and glucose uptake, but they also have differences in gene expression. We measured gene expression and we saw that genes associated with the metabolism of both glucose and aspartate were also different in the placenta, which means the biomarkers also have health implications for developmental programming post-implantation.
“The research has the very real potential to reduce time to pregnancy, to give patients the best chance of getting pregnant the first time, helping to eliminate patient stress. We hope in the very near future these biomarkers can be used in combination with artificial intelligence embryo selection.”
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