31-07-13 What is time-lapse imaging?

One of the most challenging decisions for an embryologist is deciding which embryo is the healthiest and will therefore give the best chance of a successful pregnancy. This is becoming more and more important especially if single embryo transfer is to work effectively. The most common method which can be used includes morphological evaluation where an embryo’s cell number, shape and degree of fragmentation is monitored.

During this assessment, embryos which are usually contained in a dish, are removed from the incubator and examined by the embryologist looking down a microscope. This is usually done once a day and takes no longer than a few minutes. Embryos are kept in incubators to maintain body temperature and conditions which allow the embryo to develop. When embryos are taken out of the incubator they are obviously outside the optimum environment for a short time. 

Recent improvements in technology have lead to the development of a new type of system called 'time-lapse' which allows the embryos to be constantly monitored within an incubator. Cameras located within the incubators take images of embryos approximately every ten minutes.

The advantage of time-lapse is therefore that the embryos can remain in a stable incubator and be visualised without being disturbed.  Secondly, there is some promising research which may be used to identify the best embryo as the embryos can be examined in detail to analyse how development is progressing. This research is looking at the specific timings of embryo development. 

Much research (including randomised controlled trials) is still yet to be done to determine the clinical benefits of time-lapse but initial studies show some promising results.