Two girls have been born at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York using a semi-automated in-vitro procedure, the MIT Technology Review reports. This is the first time that this type of technique has been used. However, scientists are working on various improvements to existing methods of artificial insemination.
– It’s crazy, isn’t it? They told me that until now it had always been done manually, the father of one of the girls told MIT Technology Review. As admitted by the man, who wanted to remain anonymous, he and his partner had already tried to conceive a child several times with the help of classic in-vitro, but to no avail.
Both his daughter and the other girl were born thanks to eggs that were fertilized using a specially constructed robot. As the startup’s engineers responsible for the design of the device emphasize, it currently allows only partial automation of the procedure. According to the company’s representatives, the success of the procedure is, however, the first step to the potential reduction of costs and the dissemination of the in vitro method in the future. They also talk about the planned, complete automation of artificial insemination.
The first children conceived with the help of a robot
The breakthrough insemination was performed by Eduard Alba, one of the engineers, who had no previous experience in the field of reproductive medicine. The procedure consisted of several stages. It began with the manual insertion of the sperm into the injection needle, which was then mounted in the robot’s arm. As reported by the MIT Technology Review later, one of the engineers, using a specially modified game console controller, began to control the needle attached to the arm. All the while observing the egg cell under the microscope, he guided it until it reached the desired position. Then he released the sperm inside her.
“The concept is remarkable, but it’s just a small step,” says Gianpiero Palermo, a fertility doctor at Weill Cornell Medical Center who is credited with developing the ICSI injection method. As Palermo emphasizes, in his opinion, “it is not yet a fully robotic ICSI”, due to the fact that tasks are performed manually, such as placing a sperm inside the injection needle.
How can the in-vitro procedure change in the future?
The startup has filed a patent application for a “biochip” that would contain everything that is used to carry out in-vitro. When asked how it works, Santiago Munné, head of innovation at the company, explains: “Think of a box where you put sperm and egg cells, and five days later an embryo comes out,” he says.
According to the MIT Technology Review, other clinics and companies are also working on improving artificial insemination. Specialists from Columbia University’s infertility clinic have constructed a robot that dispenses the right amount of nutrients necessary for the proper development of embryos. Meanwhile, scientists at a startup founded by Australian embryologist Jeremy Thompson have targeted another aspect of the procedure. Using 3D printing, they constructed something like “a box or cage surrounding an embryo.” Their invention is to increase the safety of embryos during transfer or freezing.
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