New Embryo Test Could Lead to Fewer Multiple Births

Women who turn to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to become pregnant may no longer have to worry about conceiving twins or triplets. Researchers at McGill University and Yale University have developed a non-invasive test to identify embryos that are healthy, viable, and capable of producing a pregnancy in IVF versus those that are not.

In the United States, over 100,000 in-vitro fertilization procedures are performed each year.  On average, 3 embryos are transferred per cycle, with only 34.3 per cent resulting in pregnancies. Of those, 50 per cent are multiple births.  This has led to an increased incidence of premature deliveries, potential health complications, and substantially higher healthcare costs, largely because current embryo screening methods are inexact and rely primarily on a visual microscopic examination of the embryos’ appearance.

The new non-invasive test, the ViaTestTM-E, analyzes the fertilization medium that bathes the developing embryo in vitro. Lead researcher, McGill University Chemistry Professor David Burns, PhD, used spectroscopic analysis and designed innovative bioinformatics (software) to examine the molecular composition of the fertilization medium.  "What we found was a very tight correlation between the probability of implantation and certain measurable properties in the culture medium or fluid," says Burns.  "Basically, we are determining how metabolically active each embryo is in the culture," he explains. The fertilization medium is analyzed 3 to 5 days after in-vitro fertilization.

Dr. Hing-Sang Hum, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University says he sees the emotional toll that IVF takes on many patients in his private practice. "IVF can be an emotional roller-coaster.  With this breakthrough, it means we may soon be able to implant just one embryo, one that is showing strong signs of viability, while preserving other good embryo candidates for later if needed," said Hum.

This advancement builds upon key findings of earlier research collaborations with Kristine Koski, PhD, of McGill’s School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition and Hyman Schipper, MD PhD of McGill’s Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery and the Faculty of Medicine. Also contributing to this research were members of the Scientific Advisory Board of Molecular Biometrics LLC, a company formed by Burns and his colleagues. Molecular Biometrics is based in New Jersey, and recently opened a Canadian subsidiary in Montreal to further develop this technology.

This basic research was funded by NSERC and CIHR, two Canadian federal government research funding agencies. Clinical trials of the ViaTestTM-E are expected to begin in early 2007.

Jacquie Rourke, Communications Office of the Vice-principal, Research
Media Contact:
Céline Poissant