Ask any woman who has been through fertility treatments, and they will likely tell you that the hardest part is the waiting and the unknown...
Which is why any technology that can lessen that emotional load is welcomed with a huge sigh of relief. Case in point? Genea’s world-leading IVF technology, which not only includes an embryo incubator (which has been proven to increase the number of high grade embryos created each cycle), but also contains time-lapse cameras, so Genea can capture photos and videos of each embryo as it develops. Sent directly to patients through the Grow by Genea app, it’s a welcomed addition to many couples’ fertility journey. To learn a little more about this technology, we spoke to embryologist Dr Sarah Datali, who talked us through fertility, the technology that’s changing the game, and why she’s your baby’s best first babysitter.
What have been your biggest learnings about fertility?
That it’s never a one-way street and there are a lot of misconceptions out in the community regarding fertility. Fertility is also not just about one particular person or gamete, it’s the culmination of many things such as lifestyle, health and genetics.
What do you wish more women knew about fertility?
I definitely feel women need to be educated to be empowered regarding their fertility. Your current lifestyle and health not only impacts your gametes (eggs) but it also impacts those of your children and grandchildren. When it comes to fertility treatments like IVF, I’d like women to understand the fact that the number of eggs we retrieve does not equal the number of eggs we can freeze or the number of viable embryos.
What lead you to become an embryologist?
I decided to take the Embryology path because I’ve always been fascinated by trying to understand the medicine and science relating to fertility and embryology. Knowing that my work in the lab every day is helping couples achieve their dream to become parents is the biggest thing that has driven me to be an embryologist.
Can you talk us through what a day in your life looks like – what are the main tasks you work on each day?
My day can vary, every day is different. Some days it will be very patient facing with procedures such as egg collections and embryo transfers. Other days it’s mostly spent in the lab looking after the embryos and making sure all the checks are complete for the day.
Can you explain what is involved with ICSI?
ICSI stands for intra cytoplasmic sperm injection. It is an insemination method, usually for couples where the male partner has low sperm count, or where a straightforward IVF insemination has failed. We catch a single, normal-looking sperm to inject into each mature egg from the female partner. We do this by striking the sperm on the tail to stop it from moving, and then drawing it up into a fine injection needle and passing it into the egg to hopefully create an embryo.
What is involved in embryo biopsy?
Embryo biopsy is a part of the pre-implantation genetic testing process for day 5 or 6 embryos. Once an embryo reaches day 5/6 it has over a hundred cells. The biopsy process itself involves safely removing 5-8 cells to run the genetic testing on. I like to call it a ‘chromosomal health check’ for the embryo.
What is vitrification and why is it done?
Vitrification is the process used to freeze oocytes or embryos for later use. The embryo goes through a number of solutions for about 15 minutes to prepare it for the freeze and then it is placed in liquid nitrogen. It is an ultra-rapid process that transforms the cells into a ‘glass like’ state preventing ice crystal formation. By preventing ice crystal formation, we can protect the cells of the embryos to give them their best chance at survival and pregnancy later on.
Talk us through the level of care that goes into patients’ embryos?
Patients’ gamates and embryos are handled with the utmost care as we like to call ourselves the ‘first babysitter’. At Genea we aim for uninterrupted culture using our Geri time lapse incubators. This means we leave the embryos undisturbed for as long as possible to give them the best chance to develop to maximise their outcome. Our staff are highly skilled and trained and are constantly participating in quality assurance schemes to ensure that we meet the requirements to handle and grade embryos. We always ensure all our equipment is tested routinely to ensure that patients’ embryos can develop to their maximum potential.
What interactions do you have with the patient?
We interact with our patients via face to face or phone conversations throughout their IVF journey. The first time we meet a patient is on the day of oocyte (egg) collection. We chat to them about our role in the procedure and how we will look after their embryos for the week. We then speak to them on day 1 and day 3 to update them on embryo development and we see them when they have an embryo transfer on day 5. I definitely enjoy interacting and passing my knowledge onto patients. It is important they have insight and understand what is happening in the lab and with their gametes.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging thing for me as an embryologist is delivering bad news or telling a patient that their cycle is over. No one wants to hear that their IVF journey has been unsuccessful whether it be a failed fertilisation or the news that there is nothing suitable to transfer or that we have not been able to find sperm for an insemination. Not knowing what has gone wrong for these patients is quite tricky and there is never a definite answer when it comes to science.
And what is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding would be when a patient has had unsuccessful cycles where they have had no embryos to transfer and through our technology and scientific expertise we finally get them to a point where they can have a transfer and they end up having a baby. Giving patients the baby they have long awaited is by far the best thing about this job.
Can you share a memorable experience since beginning with Genea?
It would have to be when a couple had a testicular sperm aspiration (TESA) to see whether we could retrieve sperm. For over five hours, it was all hands on deck with four scientists searching. We managed to inject most of the females eggs and she ended up having an embryo for transfer. She is currently pregnant and expecting a baby sometime this year.
What are some of the biggest changes to the world of IVF since you began?
Time lapse technologies and the fact we can now assess embryos without disturbing them is one of the biggest changes. Having the footage of embryos as they develop to review and make assessments as to which ones are best to use has been amazing.
Can you take us through the IVF technology developed at Genea and why it makes a difference? Why is it unique?
The introduction of Geri, Genea’s inhouse developed time-lapse incubator has been amazing. As our Scientific Director says, it’s closer than ever before to mimicking the undisturbed natural environment of a woman’s body – where a human embryo would normally grow. The Geri incubation system has seen an increase of 46.7% in the number of high grade embryos per cycle when compared to the tradition incubator and culture medium system*, as well as a 24.3% increase in the number of pregnancies when compared to the traditional incubator and culture medium system**. In Geri, each patient has their own individually controlled incubation chamber with a time lapse camera to allow scientists to continuously monitor embryos without disturbing them. Giving patients access to these images and videos of their growing embryos has made a big difference to them. Grow by Genea is the only app of its kind in Australia, giving patients the chance to see and share these images during the five days they spend growing in an incubator in the embryology lab. Grow by Genea™ allows many patients to feel more connected and involved in the process. 94% of patients agree Grow by Genea™ improved their IVF experience***.
How important is team work?
Team work is crucial to the day to day running of any business and by far the Embryology team at Genea is one of the best teams I have worked with. We work like a set of gears and we are always there for one another when we need assistance. When the team is effective and efficient we all work towards our ultimate goal: our patients.
Go to www.genea.com.au
* When compared to the traditional incubator and culture medium system. Study performed at Genea’s flagship Kent Street, Sydney CBD laboratory. Data presented at Fertility Society of Australia Conference, October 2017. Adelaide.
** Foetal heart pregnancies. Study performed in Genea’s Canberra laboratory, 2015-2018.
*** Based on responses to Grow patient survey between May – October 2017 (91 patients). Data presented at Fertility Society of Australia Conference, October 2017. Adelaide.