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Preserving the Gift of Life - The Daunting Operations of IVF Incubation & Storage

Preserving the Gift of Life - The Daunting Operations of IVF Incubation & Storage

On July 25, 1978, a 5-pound 12-ounce baby girl entered the world at a Manchester, England, hospital. Her parents had no celebrity status, and her delivery was unremarkable. And yet mere hours after Louise Joy Brown was scribbled on a nameplate and taped to a hospital bassinet, the name was being uttered around the globe.

The headlines were blunt: the world’s first “test tube baby” had been born. In vitro fertilization had succeeded.

Today, the process once considered extraordinary is now routine. More than eight million lives have been initiated through IVF to date. Every one of them represents a scientific and logistical undertaking to behold.


Mimicking Nature’s Delicate Dance

Infertility impacts the lives of as many as 186 million individuals globally, according to the World Health Organization. The causes of infertility are as varied as they are elusive. One of many stops on the fertility journey, IVF circumvents a number of potential hurdles by manually collecting eggs from the ovaries, fertilizing them with sperm in a lab, then transferring the fertilized embryos to the uterus – a transfer that typically takes place five days after fertilization. As you might expect, ensuring the embryos’ proper storage over those five days is crucial. For this reason, it’s imperative that all eggs, sperm, and resulting embryos are transferred to an incubator immediately. 

The incubators used to mimic the conditions of the human body face the additional challenge of regulating such temperatures amidst the openings and closings of a door. As such, they’re connected to a gas supply that regulates the flow of oxygen, CO2, and nitrogen. 

According to researchers at the Greenville Hospital System University Medical Group, the ideal conditions for incubating IVF embryos are as follows:

  • A temperature of 36.7°C
  • Humidity of >90%
  • 6% CO2, 5% O2, and 89% N2 (for three-day transfers)

Such precise incubator conditions are key to maximizing a selected embryo’s viability. But for any eggs or embryos derived from yet unused during the IVF process, fertility potential remains, and another set of frigid conditions comes into play. 


The Daunting Storage Implications of Lives on Ice

Because the success rate of fertilization is unknowable, the typical IVF procedure involves the collection and attempted fertilization of multiple eggs. From there, doctors and patients make a judgement call, implanting a strategic number of fertilized eggs with the understanding that implanting fewer embryos lessens the chance of success, while implanting more increases the odds of multiple births and resulting complications.

Often, the process results in unused potentially viable embryos. These fertilized eggs can be preserved for future IVF implantations, either as subsequent attempts following the 40% of IVF procedures that do not result in a pregnancy, or for future procedures in the years that follow a successful pregnancy.

Such meaningful preservation requires a cold storage solution suitable for the gift of life itself.

One of the nation’s leading long-term cryopreservation storage companies, New England Cryogenic Center (NECC) of Marlborough, MA, has preserved eggs, sperm, embryos, and more for more than four decades without a single storage failure. Located in a nondescript business park, NECC’s sterling record is a testament to years of meticulous planning and vigorous monitoring.

The cryogenic storage tanks used by NECC and other cryogenic storage providers use liquid nitrogen to maintain temperatures of -196°C. And rather than relying on electricity, the nitrogen is fed via gravity from a 9,000-gallon container into each individual storage tank. The outage-proof setup is just one example of the exhaustive preventative measures taken by the companies tasked with preserving the eggs and embryos of thousands of couples and individuals each year.

But when caring for such irreplaceable materials, risk mitigation alone is not enough. For clinicians and cryogenic storage facilities alike, intelligent monitoring has never been more important – or reliable.


Keeping their Trust: Intelligent Monitoring for IVF Stakeholders

At the advent of in vitro fertilization in 1978, monitoring such conditions entailed manual thermometer checks or paper-dependent chart recorders. These analog solutions created additional opportunities for human error and tissue disruption. Today, the advent of IoT monitoring equipment makes incubator and freezer monitoring easier and more robust than ever before.

The remote monitoring technology crafted by our company, Elemental Machines, helps scientists focus on their work, keeping watch over samples, equipment, rooms, and more and alerting them if conditions fall outside of the benchmarks they’ve established.  

One of our IoT sensors, the Element A, is a small and unobtrusive device that can be deployed inside rooms, freezers, and incubators, recording and reporting ambient conditions such as temperature and humidity.

For extreme temperature monitoring, our Element T does one thing and does it well, recording temperatures as low as -200°C and sending instantaneous alerts the moment a freezer's temperature falls out of range.

Connecting the sensors is an intelligent monitoring platform that enables users both onsite and remote to view data in real time, empowers lab managers to set custom criteria for alerts, and eases the burden of regulatory compliance with turnkey reporting.

The solutions pioneered by the Elemental Machines team are helping accelerate the pace of progress in labs around the world, including those helping couples and individuals through one of the most challenging and emotional journeys of their lives.

IVF’s experimental processes and error-prone monitoring systems have come a long way since Louise Brown was born. The full impact of intelligent monitoring technology on IVF has yet to be seen, but one thing is clear: as the success rate of the fertility treatment steadily climbs, 186 million hopeful people are cheering it along.

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