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I didn’t plan to become an embryologist.

I went to university to become a veterinarian. During my course of study, I gained some real-world experience in a vet clinic. While there, the veterinarian asked me to devise a method to improve the process of freezing horse sperm. The project triggered my interest in reproductive biology, so I switched majors to study obstetrics and gynaecology. After finishing my honours degree at the University of Adelaide, I began working as an embryologist in an IVF clinic.

Even after 20 years, it’s still a remarkable feeling to know that you’re helping people to create a family. It’s incredibly rewarding, especially when patients message you photos of their babies and children years later. Every time I receive one of these photos, I start to tear up because I know that I played a part in helping to bring that family such joy.

While there’s a lot that I love about being an embryologist, there are parts of working in an IVF clinic that I’ve found difficult, mostly the stress of the environment.

That’s why I decided to work with Fertilis.

Life in an IVF Lab

IVF labs are serious places: even the smallest distraction can lead to a big mistake, and a single mistake can have huge consequences.

IVF procedures have many steps that require sticking to tight timelines. Having an efficient team where everyone trusts each other helps with the anxiety, but the stakes are always high.

The unpredictability of human biology makes it challenging to manage workloads and plan in advance. In egg collection, for instance, clinicians can’t really predict when women are going to need their eggs collected. Sometimes, numerous patients need collection on the same day, which puts the lab under pressure if it isn’t sufficiently staffed for such a heavy workload.

Once eggs are collected in theatre, embryologists aim to inject them four hours later. If we wait too long, or do it too soon, the egg might not mature properly or the egg might not have recovered from having the cells around it denuded. The timeline has to be followed even if a clinic is understaffed. I’ve had times when I’ve been injecting eggs at midnight because the number of women needing egg collection at the start of the day was so large that collections weren’t completed until the evening.

The Cost of Mistakes

When operating in this fast moving environment, embryologists double and triple check every step — and have critical witnessing performed throughout the process — to avoid mistakes.

I’ve witnessed a handful of adverse events that occurred because of these pressures, despite the control checks. If, for instance, an embryologist gets distracted and leaves a culture dish out of the incubator, all of the patient’s viable eggs are ruined. The embryologist knows nothing will ease the pain of the patient — and she carries that burden with her for years. In her mind, the hundreds of successful procedures she’s carried out will never cancel out that one mistake.

In some jobs, there just isn’t room for human error.

Using Technology to Reduce Human Error

Fertilis’s technology has the potential to be a gamechanger for embryologists. Its device can help reduce– and hopefully eliminate– human error in the IVF labs. Doing so would increase success rates for patients while decreasing the stress embryologists endure on a daily basis.

Fertilis’s device allows embryologists to use just one dish throughout the whole IVF process. In traditional IVF, embryologists must move the embryo from dish to dish because each dish contains different media, mimicking different stages of the in vitro environment. The risk of a mistake accompanies each move. Think about it: embryologists get the embryos out, put them on a warm stage to manoeuvre them, pipette each one to another dish. What if you flick the pipette? What if you spill the dish?

Using just one dish reduces the chance that these adverse events will occur. If the incubator has a time lapse, we never even need to remove the embryos because we can monitor them from a computer.

By automating IVF, we can also improve the time frames in which embryologists must conduct their work. For instance, Fertilis makes intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) much more efficient and streamlined. At the moment, doing ICSI is quite complex — it takes months of practice to master it because it requires using a lot of tools at once. Injecting eggs is also time consuming because you’ve got to manoeuvre the tools and the egg just right so that the injector goes into the middle of the egg; otherwise, you might lyse the egg or decrease the chance of having a viable embryo. Depending on sperm quality, injecting merely 20 eggs can take more than 45 minutes.

However, the Fertilis device holds multiple eggs in individual cradles in a platform called the nest. Because the cradles have channels that lead straight to each egg, embryologists can slide injectors through the channel, inject a sperm, and move down to the next egg. Standardising and automating the process reduces the risk of human error, and it reduces the amount of time it takes for embryologists to perform injections.

Fertilis has the ability to revolutionise IVF. Being part of that revolution is an amazing experience.

Megan Inge

Clinical Research Scientist at Fertilis