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Egg Chamber

IVF Egg Collection Chamber

Newcastle University scientists, in collaboration with Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust and Labman Automation, have developed a new device to support IVF by collecting and transferring eggs while maintaining a steady temperature and pH.

There are 60,000 IVF treatments each year in the UK alone and, while the technique offers hope to thousands of couples, it has changed little over the past 40 years.

Although the temperature of the egg is known to be a critical factor in its healthy development, this sometimes drops to 30°C as it is exposed to air while being transferred from the patient to the laboratory.

Under current practices of transvaginal aspiration, follicular fluid and eggs are drawn into a test tube where they are exposed to air, where evaporation and associated cooling occur. Then it is carried to a laboratory and poured into a petri dish, when further evaporation and related loss of latent heat results in even more cooling. Once in the dish the eggs are covered with a layer of oil to prevent evaporation but by then the damage may already have been done.

To overcome this problem, Newcastle University scientists, in collaboration with Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust and Labman Automation, have developed a new device for collecting and transferring the eggs while maintaining a steady temperature and pH. This technique involves fluid being aspirated straight from the ovary into an airtight and fluid-filled chamber, called the Eggcell. A filter retains the eggs within the chamber while allowing the excess follicular fluid together with any blood or debris to be filtered out. Since there is no contact with the theatre or laboratory air, the risks from exposure to volatile organic compounds are removed. 

Available to licence

With trials funded by the National Institute for Health Research now underway to verify the performance of the technology, it is expected to be available for licensing by the end of 2019. And with the UK’s high reputation in embryology and the need for reliable IVF techniques in all corners of the world, it could play an important part in helping couples conceive healthy children in the future.

Professor Alison Murdoch explains: “When we do IVF fertility treatment we have to take the eggs out of a woman. They are removed at a very sensitive time in the development of the egg, when the chromosomes and genetic material are being rearranged. If the eggs get cold during that time it can result in an egg and an embryo that are abnormal. We know from embryology principles that when you are culturing embryos you must keep them out of air – that is what the oil layer is for. But currently there is none of that protection during the egg collection process.”

Temperature matters

Studies as long ago as the 1990s looked at the temperature of eggs and found that when they were cooled, the spindle, which holds the chromosome together when a cell divides, became abnormal. More recent, work has shown that when the temperature drops below 36°C, it impacts the development of the egg, fertilisation and implantation. In the future, researchers hope to show that by maintaining the optimal environment for the egg we get improved pregnancy rates for patients undergoing IVF.

The technology has already won an NHS Bright Ideas in Health award and is protected by a patent in 26 territories. If you are interested in this licensing opportunity, please contact Dr Catrina Mullan: catrina.mullan@ncl.ac.uk