The California IVF Fertility Center embryology lab is the high-tech heart of our clinic’s family atmosphere. Ted Tolner, PhD., leads an experienced embryology team that provides the technological backbone for patients to progress from preliminary testing to egg retrieval, fertilization, and embryo transfer. The embryology lab is also the vital link to other infertility services such as pre-implantation genetic screening and diagnosis, gender selection, and oocyte cryopreservation.
An embryology laboratory is a specialized lab providing the unique service of preparing sperm and eggs to form embryos and keeping those embryos in an environment that fosters their growth and development. The embryology lab is unique from other labs in that the environment must be tightly controlled so the conditions can mimic those of a woman’s fallopian tubes and uterus. This is accomplished by modern and expensive technology.
One of the critical components of an embryology lab is the air system. The embryology lab air must be clean and at the right temperature and humidity. California IVF Fertility Center has a purpose-built laboratory with a specialized air system that consists of multiple HEPA filtration units supplemented by multiple high-volume fans to create a clean air system that exceeds industry standards for clean air. Additionally, UV light is used to disinfect the air and other specialized filters are used to remove organic chemicals from the air. The air system is tested on a regular basis to be certain the airborne particles and organic chemicals are kept to a minimum. The fans also create a positive flow of air out of the embryology lab, insuring that outside air does not enter the embryology laboratory without first passing through the filtration system. The heating andncooling system not only has to maintain minimal variations in the laboratory temperature, it must also maintain the lab’s humidity. Though it is mostly invisible, the air filtration system remains one of the most critical pieces of an embryology laboratory. No expense was spared in developing this specialized system which will easily outperform most after-market free standing units used by many other fertility centers.
Another critical component to embryo development is temperature. Starting the day before egg retrieval, liquids and work surfaces are brought to body temperature. Eggs and embryos are very sensitive to temperature changes, so all work surfaces are monitored to insure a controlled temperature with minimal fluctuation. The fluids used for growing, or culturing embryos, must be warmed so the nutrients and pH can stabilize. Everything must be controlled so the embryos will not experience conditions that would be harmful. It requires precision equipment to maintain uniform temperatures across different surfaces such as a metal work table, microscope platform, and glass dishes.
Controlling the lighting and oxygen environment is important to embryos. When an embryo is in the fallopian tube or in the uterus, there is no light and only about 5% oxygen. An embryology laboratory must control the lighting and oxygen exposure so the embryo can thrive. There are many techniques for doing this. Having to avoid exposing embryos to room air adds a layer of complexity to embryology work. Gas chambers are used at various stages in the in vitro process to protect the embryos from harmful conditions.
The incubators in an embryology laboratory are the primary housing units where the embryos are stored. The incubators must be hooked to gas to maintain proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide (CO2). The temperature, gas fluctuations, gas content, humidity, and identity of the parents must be maintained during the whole process. Incubators house the embryos the majority of the time and when combined with the culturing techniques, and care provided by the embryologist, will act as an artificial uterus during the time the embryos are in the embryology lab.
Other specialized equipment in an embryology lab includes microscopes for micromanipulation of sperm and eggs and embryo biopsies. Most of the microscopes in an embryology laboratory are not the standard issue microscope found in most biology labs. An in vitro fertilization laboratory requires specialized and very expensive microscopes to help make the miracles happen. Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) and Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD / PGS) are examples of the procedures that require specialized equipment and a skilled embryologist.
The embryologists work toward the goal of helping patients become pregnant and having a baby. Their work results in embryos that can be placed back into the uterus during a procedure called an embryo transfer. During the embryo transfer, the embryos are put into a very small catheter that is placed into the uterus.
Embryos that are not transferred during the embryo transfer procedure may be suitable for cryopreservation, or freezing. Embryo cryopreservation is used to keep the embryos for use in the future. There are several techniques for freezing embryos including a programmed slow freeze and vitrification. Once frozen, embryos are stored in tanks filled with liquid nitrogen. This allows the embryology lab to store the embryos for as many years as parents-to-be desire. Oocyte cryopreservation, or egg freezing, is a emerging field that will allow us to store a woman’s eggs for later use. This is very helpful for fertility preservation for women facing chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer. Oocyte cyro may also be helpful for women desiring to preserve fertility for later in life.
The embryology laboratory employs many safety techniques to maintain the identity of the embryos as well as keeping them safe from environmental changes that could harm the embryos. Locks, alarm systems, temperature and chemical monitors, gas monitors, and regular quality control checks help keep the embryology laboratory functioning well, resulting in excellent pregnancy rates from our in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures. The entire laboratory is backed up by a large diesel engine generator that can supply immediate and uninterrupted power. The fuel can be replaced while the generator is in operation so the lab remains protected from unplanned power outages. All of these safety features are integrated with a phone system that can call the embryologist and physician should a problem arise. Children are life’s most precious gift and a modern embryology lab has more safety features than most day care centers. Our embryologists are confident when they tell couples, “I’m your first babysitter”.
Please explore additional pages to learn more about embryology, IVF, and other fertility services offered. Our embryology laboratory is constantly evolving and developing new approaches and techniques designed to improve pregnancy outcomes. Photo galleries and videos of the embryology laboratory will give you a first had look inside the embryology lab at California IVF Fertility Center located just outside Sacramento.