Your First Babysitter: The Embryologist
An embryologist is a medical expert who specializes in the study of eggs, sperm and embryos. The embryologist’s role in the process of in vitro fertilization begins with the initial infertility consultation. During the diagnostic procedure, the embryologist will determine if there are any specific issues which need to be addressed before the IVF cycle begins.
Beginning the IVF cycle
When an IVF cycle commences, the embryologist will be responsible for:
- Assessing the quality of the sperm and preparing it for fertilization
- Assessing the quality of the retrieved eggs
- Fertilizing the eggs with the sperm
- Monitoring the embryos as they develop to ensure the viability
Preventing birth defects
Another important job the embryologist performs is a preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). This type of testing is typically recommended for women over the age of 35 years. A PGD is also important for men or women who have a history of a hereditary genetic disorder or are known carriers of certain diseases. Parents who have one or more children with a genetic disorder should be checked as well as couples who have had several failed IVF cycles or miscarriages.
During the PGD tests, a single cell is extracted from the embryo. Analysis of the cell determines whether the embryo has a genetic disease. The PGD test is performed to ensure that only healthy embryos are transferred to the uterus. This increases the likelihood of a successful implantation and a healthy pregnancy.
The embryologist and the embryo transfer
Between 3 and 5 days after embryo fertilization, one or two embryos are transferred to the mother’s uterus. The embryologist is responsible for storing the spare embryos in case they are needed for future IVF cycles or donation. The storage process is known as cryopreservation, which involves preserving embryos at sub-zero temperatures.
Questions to ask the embryologist
In order to be as informed as possible about the IVF procedure, women should consider asking their embryologist the following questions:
- What is this clinic’s success rate for IVF?
- Are there any side effects of IVF medications?
- How many IVF cycles are typically needed?
Couples should always ask for clarification if they do not understand the information the embryologist provides.
It’s all about teamwork
A successful IVF treatment depends upon effective collaboration between all the members of a fertility team including the nurses, doctors, and embryologist. Though mothers-to-be don’t tend to spend a lot of one-on-one time with their embryologist, they can rest assured that they are working hard behind the scenes to ensure the development of healthy embryos.