What Happens Inside the IVF Lab? Your Questions-Answered



Happy World Embryologist Day! We’re celebrating the fascinating, important work that our embryologists must do every single day in order to make things like IVF and cryopreservation possible.

While many LGBTQ prospective parents are not “infertile”, many moms and dads to be need the help of a fertility clinic (and the embryologists who work there) in order to build their families biologically. For dads, this may be the IVF cycle that’s part of their surrogacy journey. For moms, this could be an IUI, an IVF cycle using one or both partner’s eggs, or even a reciprocal IVF cycle.

So, in all cases, we have something to thank embryologists for on World Embryologist Day. Embryologists are the people that care for the eggs, the sperm, and ultimately, the embryo. They meticulously analyze and watch over the future of someone’s family…as Erica Paganetti puts it, embryologists are “the child’s first babysitter.”

Gay Parents to Be works with RMA of Connecticut and the lab there to take the best care of our patients’ future families. Erica Paganetti is Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut’s Senior Embryologist and Embryology Lab Manager. Along with her team, Erica fosters the early development of embryos, including the monitoring, grading, testing, and freezing. Known as cryopreservation, an embryologist is responsible for making sure your embryos, oocytes, or sperm are all safely stored for as long as you need.

This field is full of ooo’s and aww’s and may seem a bit mysterious. What are they doing in those dark labs? Is freezing my embryos for years and years really okay? Below, Erica answers frequently asked questions that she and her team get, particularly concerning cryopreservation and a patient’s embryo(s):

1. My embryo was abnormal… why did you still freeze it?

Embryos are cultured in our laboratory for a maximum of 7 days. Following the biopsy procedure, embryos must be cryopreserved while we wait for results from the genetics lab. So we don’t know for sure if they are abnormal or not when we first freeze. Cryopreservation allows us to suspend the development of the embryos until the couple is ready to use them. The samples collected from each embryo are loaded individually, labeled, and shipped to a genetic testing facility for processing. Genetic testing results have a turnaround time of about two weeks. We go ahead and freeze the embryos in hopes of a normal test result.

2. How do you grade them and what does the grade mean?

Before we send out for genetic testing and cryopreserve any embryos, we analyze each one using a very complex grading process. The grade is an overall assessment of the embryo’s developmental stage and quality. There can be significant variation in embryo grading, even within a single patient’s group of embryos. We utilize the grade as an indicator of embryo quality, aiding us in selection for procedures such as embryo transfer, cryopreservation, and/or biopsy. Embryos eligible for these procedures fall within a range of grading criteria specific to our lab. Although there is a range of grades within embryos that can be transferred, cryopreserved, or biopsied, all of these embryos have significant reproductive potential.

3. How long does it take to transfer-in samples from another facility?

When a patient comes to us from another facility, with oocytes, sperm, and/or embryos in storage, they often request the transfer-in of these specimens. We must collect all records related to these samples which include analysis reports, culture information, cryopreservation/warming protocols, infectious disease testing, etc. Once we receive all required paperwork, the records are reviewed for approval and the transport can be scheduled. From start to finish, this process generally takes about 3-6 weeks.

4. How long do cryopreserved embryos last?

Cryopreservation suspends/halts embryo development indefinitely. These embryos do not have an expiration date and can be used at any point in the future. The world record for the “oldest” embryo utilized to produce a pregnancy was frozen for 24 years before being thawed and transferred, resulting in a healthy baby girl. This embryo was originally cryopreserved on October 14, 1992, waiting to be thawed and transferred until March 13, 2017.

5. If you used frozen sperm for my IUI/IVF procedure, why am I still receiving a storage bill?

Cryopreserved semen samples are generally processed and stored in multiple vials for future use. Even if you have multiple vials available for use, when thawing vials of sperm for IUI and/or IVF, vials are warmed and processed one at a time. Additional vials are only thawed when absolutely necessary. This usually results in additional samples remaining in storage, so please be aware that fees will usually still apply, even after your cycle is complete.

On this World Embryologist Day, we thank all the “first babysitter’s” out there with their heads down, squinting through microscopes, taking care of our future families.

Erica Paganetti

Erica Paganetti

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