Since the birth of the first ‘test tube baby’ in 1978, it is estimated that approximately 5 million babies have been born as a result of in vitro fertilization (IVF). When the idea was first introduced, there were those who saw it as a sign that soon babies would be farmed, bought and sold like so many turnips. Since then, however, it has become a more commonly accepted practice and what would have been thought of as science fiction less than 40 years ago is now a regular part of medical practice.
IVF is the name given to a process in which a woman’s eggs are removed from her ovaries and fertilized in a laboratory. It is something that requires a great deal of time and emotional commitment and is more complicated than you might initially assume. First, the woman receives a daily injection to suppress her natural monthly hormone cycle. Once that has taken effect, a daily fertility hormone injection is given in order to increase the number of eggs her body produces. The eggs are then collected from each ovary through a needle. After collection, the eggs are mixed with the sperm and cultured in a laboratory. Those that have become fertilized, now referred to as embryos, are further incubated and then the best one or two of those will be selected for transfer.
The process is taxing and the better prepared the woman and her embryos, the greater the likelihood of success. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, the average cost of the IVF cycle in the US is $12,400 – not a financial burden to be assumed lightly. Clearly, anything that can be done to improve the chance of successful fertilization followed by a healthy pregnancy and baby is extremely valuable. It is here that 3D printing enters the story.
Professor Samir Hamamah and Dr. Elodie Scalici of the University Hospital of Montepellier and Dr. Mérigeaud of Tridilogy, LLC have developed a technique by which doctors can analyze the 3D embryo as a whole. The 3D image of the particular embryo is created by integrating data gathered from several sections of the embryo via standard inverted light microscopy. Once the 3D model has been created, it can then be printed, giving ‘ex vitro’ visual access to in vitro embryos. Prior to this development, embryos could only be examined in a single plane. This inability to fully examine the embryo meant that despite all preparations, approximately 8%% of embryos fertilized in vitro and selected as viable still failed to implant.
While this new method for examination will not mean that the failure to implant percentage will drop to 0, it should still have a significant impact as it will allow for a more thorough examination of the pre-implantation embryo. The research team has applied for an international patent for the technology. This puts the French medical researchers on the forefront of modeling for IVF and may help thousands of women have successful IVF treatments.
Another thing to think about is that rather than one day showing your child their ultrasound picture, you could reach back even further and let them hold a 3D printed sculpture of themselves as a recently fertilized embryo. Let’s hear your thoughts on this incredible use of 3D printing in the IVF 3D printed embryo forum thread on 3DPB.com.