Technology Used in In Vitro Fertilization

Instructor: Shelly Watkins

Shelly has instructed college biology courses, as well as graduate students in health profession programs. She has a doctorate in physical therapy.

In this lesson, readers will learn about various types of technology and their uses with respect to in vitro fertilization. Readers will also explore terminology related to in vitro fertilization

In Vitro Fertilization

Approximately 10 percent of couples have difficulty getting and/or staying pregnant. Fortunately, options like in vitro fertilization (IVF) exist to help these couples. During conception of an embryo, a mother's egg, or ovum, and a father's sperm unite to create a new, genetically unique cell called a zygote. Using IVF, this event can be reproduced outside the normal environment of conception in the mother's uterus. Also, sperm, eggs, or even embryos can be frozen for later use. We will consider several technology options that enhance IVF.

Hysteroscopy

Imaging using a hysteroscopy is normally done in IVF clinics in order to evaluate the inner lining of a patient's uterus, also known as the endometrium. This procedure allows healthcare providers to see a patient's anatomy as well as diagnose any abnormalities. Patients can then begin any necessary treatment. This visualization enhances the success of any future IVF treatments the patient might undergo.

During the procedure, a tool called a hysteroscope is inserted into the vagina. The vaginal wall may be stretched with a tool called a speculum or a tenaculum, which allows the hysteroscope to be inserted more easily. The hysteroscope can be moved by the clinician in order to view the internal anatomy of the patient. It also has the potential to be used when providing treatment.

Ultrasound

Another method of imaging involves ultrasound technology. This is sometimes called ultrasonography. During an ultrasound, a transducer is used to deliver waveforms at various frequencies. These waveforms penetrate the mother's tissues and are able to convey images of her reproductive anatomy.

Ultrasound is used to evaluate anatomical information, including identifying the stage of ovum development in the ovaries, spotting any growths within the uterus, and determining how thick the uterine wall is at the time. Ultrasound is also used to monitor the progress of a woman's pregnancy.

Ultrasound is often used during oocyte retrieval techniques. This involves removal of oocytes, or immature egg cells. Oocytes develop within a follicle, which consists of one or multiple layers of cells surrounding the immature oocyte. As the oocyte grows, the follicle grows as well. It is important that follicles are observed with ultrasound, or other imaging techniques, prior to retrieval of the oocyte. Ultrasound can also provide imaging during the oocyte retrieval process, which can be done through the vagina, or through an incision in a laparoscopic procedure.

Doppler techniques can be used to view blood flow to the follicles prior to or during the process of oocyte retrieval as well. Doppler ultrasound is a variation of the ultrasound. This technique can provide 3-dimensional (3D) images of anatomical structures.

Intrauterine Insemination

Insemination involves the introduction of sperm directly into the female reproductive anatomy at specific times during her monthly cycle. This is typically done as close to the time of ovulation as possible, which is the time that the oocyte emerges from the female's ovary and into the reproductive pathway. Insemination is done to ensure that the sperm has a better chance of fertilizing the ovulated oocyte. This procedure can also involve ultrasound imaging, as it helps a clinician observe the growth of the follicles. A catheter is used to insert sperm. Various techniques exist to enhance the effectiveness of sperm in this process.

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