Scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia created a microdevice that helps embryologists perform intracytoplasmic sperm injections. The procedure involves injecting a single sperm cell into an egg to initiate fertilization, and it is a key component of fertility procedures such as in vitro fertilization. Typically, this procedure is performed by skilled and experienced embryologists, and it is fiddly and slow. This new device cradles up to ten eggs and holds them in position during the injection, making is easier and allowing for more reproducible results.
For couples facing fertility issues, in vitro fertilization is often an option. However, the procedure is protracted and expensive, requiring highly trained embryologists and sophisticated techniques and equipment. A key part of the process is the fertilization itself, which typically occurs through intracytoplasmic sperm injections. This involves holding an egg in place using a pipette, and then using a tiny needle to inject a single sperm cell into it. This is as fiddly as it sounds, and is a key pinch point in the process.
“Where IVF science has excelled, technology has tended to stagnate — until now,” said Jeremy Thompson, one of the developers of the new device. “Intracytoplasmic sperm injection hasn’t changed since its discovery 30 years ago. Continued innovation in the IVF lab like this is the only way we will boost success and reduce the financial and emotional burden for patients.”
The new injector consists of two components, “pods” and a “garage”. The pods can be used to culture an embryo, and several pods can be docked within the garage. The components are small, each being less than a cubic millimeter, and were fabricated using 2-photon polymerization.
The device can hold up to ten eggs at one time, and makes the injection process easier, helping to save time and resources within busy fertility clinics. The technology also makes it easier for embryologists to track what they are doing, avoid errors, and make the process more reliable and reproducible.
“The development of this new, innovative approach is an important breakthrough for people wanting to start a family who haven’t been able to due to male infertility,” said Kylie Dunning, another researcher involved in the study. “By removing the need for the pipette that normally holds the unfertilised egg in position during intracytoplasmic sperm injections, this device simplifies the injection process, reduces dependency on a high level of technical experience and will dramatically improve embryo production. This discovery removes significant barriers to treatment for people with infertility and will improve IVF success.”
Study in Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics: Fabrication on the microscale: a two-photon polymerized device for oocyte microinjection