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Since the birth of the first baby by in vitro fertilization in 1978, more than 9 million children have been born worldwide using medically assisted reproductive treatments. Fertilization naturally takes place in the maternal oviduct where unique physiological conditions enable the early healthy development of the embryo. During this dynamic period of early development major waves of epigenetic reprogramming, crucial for the normal fate of the embryo, take place. Increasingly, over the past 20 years concerns relating to the increased incidence of epigenetic anomalies in general, and genomic-imprinting disorders in particular, have been raised following assisted reproduction technology (ART) treatments. Epigenetic reprogramming is particularly susceptible to environmental conditions during the periconceptional period and non-physiological conditions such as ovarian stimulation, in vitro fertilization and embryo culture, as well as cryopreservation procedure, might have the potential to independently or collectively contribute to epigenetic dysregulation. Therefore, this narrative review offers a critical reappraisal of the evidence relating to the association between embryo cryopreservation and potential epigenetic regulation and the consequences on gene expression together with long-term consequences for offspring health and wellbeing. Current literature suggests that epigenetic and transcriptomic profiles are sensitive to the stress induced by vitrification, in terms of osmotic shock, temperature and pH changes, and toxicity of cryoprotectants, it is therefore, critical to have a more comprehensive understanding and recognition of potential unanticipated iatrogenic-induced perturbations of epigenetic modifications that may or may not be a consequence of vitrification.
The inability to support the growth and development of a mature fetus up to delivery results in significant human suffering. Current available solutions include adoption, surrogacy, and uterus transplantation. However, these options are subject to several ethical, religious, economic, social, and medical concerns. Ectogenesis is the process in which an embryo develops in an artificial uterus from implantation through to the delivery of a live infant. This current narrative review summarizes the state of recent research focused on human ectogenesis. First, a literature search was performed to identify published reports of previous experiments and devices used for embryo implantation in an extracorporeally perfused human uterus. Furthermore, studies fitting that aim were selected and critically evaluated. Results were synthesized, interpreted, and used to design a prospective strategy for future research. Therefore, this study suggests that full ectogenesis might be obtained using a computer-controlled system with extracorporeal blood perfusion provided by a digitally controlled heart–lung–kidney system. From a clinical perspective, patients who will derive significant benefits from this technology are mainly those women diagnosed with anatomical abnormalities of the uterus and those who have undergone previous hysterectomies, numerous abortions, and experienced premature birth. Ectogenesis is the complete development of an embryo in an artificial uterus. It represents the solutions for millions of women suffering from premature deliveries, and the inability to supply growth and development of embryos/fetuses in the womb. In the future, ectogenesis might replace uterine transplantation and surrogacy.
The success of an assisted reproduction cycle should be the achievement of a healthy singleton live birth following the replacement of one embryo. Therefore, one of the most critical points for embryologists has been the selection criteria and how to choose the best embryo to transfer with high implantation potential. In this vein, morphological evaluation has been historically the method applied. However, this practice relies on a limited number of single observations and is associated with high operator variability. Recently, a major innovation in embryo culture has been the introduction of a new type of incubator with integrated time-lapse monitoring, which enables the embryologist to analyze the dynamic events of embryo development, from fertilization to blastocyst formation. This novel practice is quickly growing and has been implemented in many IVF clinics worldwide. Therefore, the main aim of this review is to illustrate the benefits of time-lapse technology in a modern embryology laboratory. In particular, we discuss the blastocyst collapse(s) event and morphometric blastocyst assessment and analyse their association with embryo viability and implantation potential.
The announcement in 2019 of a new coronavirus disease that quickly became a major pandemic, is an exceptional challenge to healthcare systems never seen before. Such a public health emergency can largely influence various aspects of people’s health as well as reproductive outcome. IVF specialists should be vigilant, monitoring the situation whilst contributing by sharing novel evidence to counsel patients, both pregnant women and would-be mothers. Coronavirus infection might adversely affect pregnant women and their offspring. Consequently, this review paper aims to analyse its potential risks for reproductive health, as well as potential effects of the virus on gamete function and embryo development. In addition, reopening fertility clinics poses several concerns that need immediate addressing, such as the effect of severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) on reproductive cells and also the potential risk of cross-contamination and viral transmission. Therefore, this manuscript summarizes what is currently known about the effect of the SARS-CoV-2 infection on medically assisted reproductive treatments and its effect on reproductive health and pregnancy.
Increasing evidence has demonstrated that obesity impairs female fertility and negatively affects human reproductive outcome following medically assisted reproduction (MAR) treatment. In the United States, 36.5% of women of reproductive age are obese. Obesity results not only in metabolic disorders including type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but might also be responsible for chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Several studies have demonstrated that inflammation and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the ovary modify steroidogenesis and might induce anovulation, as well as affecting oocyte meiotic maturation, leading to impaired oocyte quality and embryo developmental competence. Although the adverse effect of female obesity on human reproduction has been an object of debate in the past, there is growing evidence showing a link between female obesity and increased risk of infertility. However, further studies need to clarify some gaps in knowledge. We reviewed the recent evidence on the association between female obesity and infertility. In particular, we highlight the association between fat distribution and reproductive outcome, and how the inflammation and oxidative stress mechanisms might reduce ovarian function and oocyte quality. Finally, we evaluate the connection between female obesity and endometrial receptivity.
In the last decades, the universal use of mobile phones has contributed to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation environmental pollution. The steady growth in mobile phone usage has raised concerns about the effects of phone radiation on male reproductive health. Epidemiological studies report a sharp decline in sperm counts in developing countries, and worldwide with c. 14% of couples having difficulties to conceive, many of which are attributed to a male infertility factor. Environment and lifestyle factors are known to contribute to male infertility. Exposure to heat, radiation, or radioactivity might induce damage to biological tissue organs, including the testis. Given the ubiquitous use of mobile phones, the potential adverse effects of the resulting environmental radiation needs to be elucidated further. It seems to be an apparent relationship between the increased exposure to mobile phone radiofrequency and sperm quality decline, but the evidence is not conclusive. Our review summarizes the evidence concerning the possible adverse effects of cell phone radiation on the male reproductive system, with a focus on sperm quality. Also, we critically analyze the effects of elevated testicular temperature and oxidative stress on male fertility and how these factors could interfere with the physiological activities of the testis.
Medically assisted reproductive (MAR) treatments using donated oocytes are commonly applied in several countries to treat women who cannot conceive with their own gametes. Historically, in Italy, gamete donation has been prohibited but, in 2014, the law changed and gamete donation became allowed for couples undergoing MAR treatments. Consequently, in the last decade, there has been an increase in application of the oocyte donation programme. This study reports an egg-donation programme’s clinical efficacy, based on importing donated vitrified oocytes from cryo-banks located in a foreign country. For this, we conducted a retrospective analysis of data from a single reproductive unit located in Italy (Donna Salus Women’s Health and Fertility, Bozen). The study group consisted of 681 vitrified oocytes, which were warmed and culture to be replaced in 100 recipients. The survival rate after warming was 79.1% (n = 539/681), whereas the fertilization and blastulation rates were 90.2% (n = 486/539) and 47.9% (n = 233/486), respectively. Positive pregnancy test, clinical pregnancy rates, and live-birth rates per embryo transfer were 37.8%, 31.1% and 28.4%, respectively. The multiple pregnancy rate was 0.7%. This study is one of the first to report on the efficacy of a donor oocyte programme in Italy using imported vitrified oocytes. The above data may reassure women who are undertaking donation programmes using vitrified oocytes imported from commercial egg banks.
During human in vitro culture, a morphological microscope analysis is normally performed to select the best embryo to transfer, with the hope of obtaining a successful pregnancy. The morphological evaluation may combine number and size of blastomeres, fragmentation, multinucleation, blastocyst expansion, inner-cell mass and trophectoderm appearance. However, standard microscopy evaluation involves the removal of the embryos from the incubator, exposing them to changes in pH, temperature, and oxygen level. Additionally, morphological assessments might include high inter-observer variability. Recently, continuous embryo culture using time-lapse monitoring (TLM) has allowed embryologists to analyse the dynamic and morphokinetic events of embryo development and, based on that, the embryologist is able to scrutinize the complete sequence of embryonic evolution, from fertilization to the blastocyst formation. Therefore, TLM allows an uninterrupted culture condition, reducing the need to remove embryos from the incubator. The monitoring system is normally composed of a standard incubator with an integrated microscope coupled to a digital camera, which is able to collect images at regular times, and subsequently processed into video. These data can be annotated and analyzed using an integrated software, therefore this allows embryologists to facilitate the process of embryo selection for transfer. The main aim of this paper is to discuss the potential benefits and uses of the TLM in the embryology laboratory.
In this report, we present a case of a couple who obtained a live birth with a single oocyte fertilized by intracytoplasmic sperm injection. The oocyte was collected at 36 h post trigger and was found to be at metaphase II when sperm injection was performed. At 18 h post injection, the oocyte was found to be fertilized with two clear pronuclei. The embryo divided and generated a four-cell embryo on day 2, which was replaced to the uterine cavity. Pregnancy test gave a positive β-human chorionic gonadotropin result, the scan performed at 7 weeks, revealed the presence of one amniotic sac with fetal heartbeat. Healthy live birth was obtained after 39 weeks of gestation.
In this report we present an unusual case of a couple who achieved a twin pregnancy by intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) with a single immature oocyte retrieved. The oocyte was at metaphase I at 39 h post human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) administration, which is our standard ICSI time. Extended culture allowed the extrusion of the polar body, and sperm injection was performed at 43 h post-trigger. The fertilized egg underwent embryo biopsy on day 3 and preimplantation genetic assessment for three chromosomes (X, Y and 21). The embryo remained in culture until day 5. Later, the biopsy results reported a transferable embryo, which was replaced to the uterine cavity at blastocyst stage. Pregnancy test gave a positive β-hCG result, and the 6 weeks’ scan, performed to confirm the fetal heart, revealed the presence of one amniotic sac and two fetal heartbeats, which currently have been so far eventless and smooth, ongoing at 18 weeks of gestation.
Spontaneous blastocyst collapse during in vitro embryo development has been suggested as a novel marker of embryo quality. Therefore, the aim of this multicentre study was to carry out a retrospective multicentre analysis to investigate the correlation between blastocyst collapse and pregnancy outcome. Here, 1297 intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)/in vitro fertilization (IVF) fresh cycles, with an elective single blastocyst transfer (eSET) were included in this study. Embryos were cultured individually in 6.0% CO2, 5.0% O2, 89.0% N2, using single step medium (GTLTM VitroLife, Sweden) or sequential medium (CookTM, Cook Medical, Australia) and selected for transfer using standard morphological criteria. With the use of time-lapse monitoring (TLM), blastocysts were analyzed by measuring the maximum volume reduction and defined as having collapsed, if there was ≥ 50% volume reduction from the expanded blastocyst and the collapse event. Following embryo replacement, each blastocyst was retrospectively allocated to one of two groups (collapsed or not collapsed). Here, 259 blastocysts collapsed once or more during development (19.9%) and the remaining 1038 either contracted minimally or not collapsed (80.1%). A significantly higher ongoing pregnancy rate (OPR) of 51.9% (95% CI 48.9–59.9%) was observed when blastocysts that had not collapsed were replaced compared with cycles in which collapsed blastocysts were transferred 37.5% (95% CI 31.6–43.4%). This study suggests that human blastocysts that collapse spontaneously during development are less likely to implant and generate a pregnancy compared with embryos that do not. Although this is a retrospective study, the results demonstrated the utility of collapse episodes as new marker of embryo selection following eSET at blastocyst stage.
Vitrification is a highly efficient technique for the cryopreservation of the human embryo. The effect of delayed blastulation may be responsible for implantation failures and negatively affects in vitro fertilization (IVF) outcomes. The current literature displays discordant results; some studies have announced higher pregnancy rates after day 5 (D5) transfer compared with day 6 (D6) transfer, while others have shown equivalent outcomes. In the present study an investigation into the clinical implications of delayed blastulation (D5 versus D6) was carried out. We performed a retrospective study comparing clinical pregnancies and implantation rates following warmed single blastocyst transfer (WSBT). All patients coming for a programmed warmed transfer at Edinburgh Assisted Conception Programme, EFREC, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, were included in this study and divided in two groups according to the day of blastocyst vitrification: D5 (n = 1563) and D6 (n = 517). The overall survival rate was 95.0% (1976/2080) with no significant difference between the D5 and D6 groups: 95.3% (1489/1563) and 94.2% (487/517) respectively. WSBT of D6 blastocysts resulted in a lower implantation and clinical pregnancy compared with D5 embryos. The implantation rate (IPR) and clinical pregnancy rate (CPR) were respectively 49.4% and 42.6% for the D5 and 37.4% and 32.2% for the D6 embryos, which was statistically significant. The multiple pregnancy rate was 1.32% (1.14% for D5 vs 1.84% for D6). Although the transfer of D6 vitrified-warmed blastocyst remains a reasonable option, priority to a D5 embryo would reduce the time to successful pregnancy.
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