Inside the Embryology Laboratory at San Antonio IVF
Behind the scenes at San Antonio IVF, our embryologists maintain the highest level of IVF lab quality, and perform the procedures that lead to the optimal fertilization of eggs, the healthy growth of embryos and the development of successful pregnancies. We are fortunate to have on staff sought-after clinical embryologists and an IVF lab director who are each committed to safeguard the eggs, embryos, and sperm that you entrust to their care.
Our San Antonio IVF embryologists have years of experience performing complex IVF procedures. In addition to conventional insemination in a petri dish, we specialize in advanced services such as laser assisted hatching, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), egg and embryo vitrification (ultra-rapid freezing), and embryo biopsy for genetic testing. Our embryologists focus on procedures that affect both male and female infertility, using the latest technologies, including time-lapse photography to assess embryonic development.
The Home of San Antonio IVF
Our advanced reproductive technology (ART) laboratory was designed to exact standards, and outfitted with incubators, micromanipulators, and micro-surgical lasers to create the optimal environment for embryonic growth and development. When genetic materials pass through the doors of San Antonio IVF, our embryologists become their caretakers.
The IVF lab, located in the Stone Oak area of San Antonio, consists of over 4000 square feet of customized air filtration systems, microscopes, high definition video systems, and state-of-the-art incubators, each unique to our purpose of sustaining new life.
An Embryologist’s Role in IVF
Our embryologists’ job starts with an assessment of the male partner’s sperm. We evaluate every specimen for concentration (the number of sperm present in each cc of semen), motility (the percentage of sperm that are alive and swimming), and normal morphology (the percentage of sperm that have a normal shape). We then choose the best sperm preparation technique to use so that we can get the greatest number of normally shaped, motile sperm to add to the eggs.
Once the eggs have been retrieved, they must be identified, removed from their surrounding cells, and placed into culture so that they can continue to mature in the laboratory. Approximately 5-6 hours after retrieval, several thousand moving sperm are either added to a droplet of culture media containing each egg (insemination), or – in cases where the sperm specimen is not of very good quality – a single sperm is actually injected directly into each egg by our embryologists using a tiny needle directed by robotically controlled instruments (ICSI). These eggs are then returned to their incubator for 18 hours of development, during which time fertilization hopefully occurs.
Over the course of the following week, while our embryologists monitor and maintain the culture media, gas atmosphere, humidity and temperature levels in the incubators that house the embryos, the embryos begin to divide and develop. They regularly assess embryonic growth – checking often enough to make sure the embryos are meeting their developmental milestones, while not checking too often so that the environment within each incubator remains optimal.
A Week in the Life of an Embryo
Day 1: After documenting fertilization, each embryo is placed in culture media that mimics the environment normally found in the fallopian tube.
Day 2: Embryos are allowed to continue growing without being disturbed.
Day 3: Embryonic development is assessed and a decision is made about next steps. In most cases, we will return the embryos to the incubator where they will continue to grow. In rare cases, we consider embryo transfer, or even embryo biopsy on day 3. If we are going to do your embryo biopsy on day 3, an embryologist will remove a single cell from each viable embryo for preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) or diagnosis (PGD) at this time.
Day 4: Embryos are allowed to continue growing without being disturbed.
Day 5: Aside from Day 1 when we confirm fertilization, Day 5 is perhaps the most important day in an IVF cycle. Day 5 is the first day that embryos reach the critical blastocyst stage. If we are planning on doing a fresh embryo transfer, this is the day that it most often occurs. If, on the other hand, we are planning on freezing all embryos, this is the first day that we start this process. In addition, for those patients who desire genetic testing of their embryos, this is the first day that we start to perform embryo biopsies as well.
Days 6 and 7: Embryos are reassessed for vitrification (freezing) and biopsy (if indicated).
An Embryologist’s Role in Female infertility
- Although IVF was originally developed for women with blocked fallopian tubes, advances in the laboratory and significant increases in pregnancy rates have made IVF an option for couples with almost all infertility diagnoses. Women with endometriosis, pelvic adhesions, ovulatory dysfunction, advanced maternal age, and even unexplained infertility can all benefit from IVF.
- Increasingly, women are seeking fertility preservation. Whether a woman wants to freeze her eggs prior to treatment for cancer or another serious medical condition, or whether she is just concerned about making sure that she has the best possible chance for fertility when she is ready to conceive in the future, oocyte or embryo vitrification offer legitimate hope. As one of the only IVF laboratories in Texas that has actually had healthy babies born from eggs that we have frozen in our laboratory, we now confidently offer elective oocyte vitrification to women in need.
- Assisted embryo hatching has been shown to significantly increase pregnancy rates for couples with specific causes of infertility – including advanced maternal age and previous IVF failure. Whereas most IVF laboratories use an older technique that exposes embryos to acid as part of the hatching procedure, we use a microsurgical laser to minimize trauma to the embryos and avoid acid exposure altogether.
An Embryologist’s Role in Male infertility
- Men with an extremely low sperm count (oligospermia), low motility (asthenospermia), or very few normally shaped sperm (teratospermia) will benefit significantly from intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) as part of their IVF treatment. During this procedure, a single normal appearing sperm is injected into each mature egg using a microsurgical needle. ICSI has revolutionized IVF for couples with severe male factor infertility, and now produces pregnancy rates essentially as good as those achieved in men with normal sperm counts.
Embryologists at San Antonio IVF play a significant role in increasing the chance for successful conception despite male or female infertility factors. Your embryology team at our San Antonio IVF facility treats each specimen as they would a patient—with care, concern and the highest level of professionalism.
Contact San Antonio IVF for more information regarding our laboratory procedures, personnel, and latest successes. We are committed to providing the highest quality, evidence-based IVF lab services by our world class embryologists and andrologists.