Written by Bina Miller, Senior Embryologist at ReproMed
Many of you, reading this may or may not have met your embryologist on your journey of creating your family. Maybe you’re on this journey right now. Perhaps this journey wasn’t for you. But upon being asked by friends and family, “What do you do? Do you make babies in test tubes?”, I decided to attempt to answer, “What is an Embryologist?”.
I think the most interesting question to ask your embryologist is, how did you become one? For a relatively new field – Louise Brown, the word’s first IVF baby, was born in 1978 - most embryologists working right now in the middle of their career were probably trained as research biomedical scientists, PhD’s in biology, molecular biology, pharmacology or veterinary embryologists and spent many years harvesting oocytes probably from frog ovaries, dissecting mouse embryos and collecting semen samples from sheep, cattle or goat! (hopefully not for the same project!)
An embryologist is a special breed of scientist. Yes, we love cake, collecting pens in our pockets, new gadgets and trendy microscopes, scrub caps with pictures of sperm and eggs on them. However, we are also insanely awesome at multitasking, attention to detail, record keeping, fine motor control and risk assessors, but most of all we love seeing big, bouncing, beautiful hatching blastocysts, (the name for an embryo generally when it reaches a Day 5 or Day 6 stage). If you see a group of embryologists huddled around a time-lapse screen at 8:30 a.m. all ‘oooing’ and ‘aaaahhing’… guaranteed it’s a 553 (a top grade blastocyst) were smiling proudly at!
An embryologist can also be described as your first ever babysitter. A prepared and responsible minder that would ensure a warm cosy bed, a nutritious dinner, milk and water, dim lights, emergency phone numbers, care and concern and holding onto them tight! Similarly, an embryologist is the most responsible guardian for your gametes. As soon as you are instructed to take your trigger, we are preparing for your oocytes to enter our lab ensuring the dishes are made with the culture media that will feed and nourish your embryos whilst they grow to 3, 5 or 6 days old. We measure daily the temperature, carbon dioxide and oxygen levels that will keep your embryos growing in our incubators. Every incubator, storage tank and appliance in the lab are strictly monitored 24/7 to an alarm system and a lucky on-call embryologist who will, at the drop of a hat, come out to the lab at 2:15 a.m if there is even a 1-degree drop in any incubator overnight.
We have meticulous skills and energy for recording the batch lot numbers, expiry dates and manufacturing quality certificates for every single piece of equipment, consumable, tip, needle, plastic dish/tubes that will encounter contact with your embryos. Multiple times a day we are measuring and recording temperatures for equipment such as heated stages, microscope stages, benches and manipulation devices that must be working absolutely perfectly for us to look after your gametes, all that responsibility lies with your embryologist alone.
After our morning of measuring and recording all our equipment, we are on a strict timeline to start the fertilisation checks (Day 1) of the inseminations from the day before (Day 0). Next, we are checking for cell division and embryo growth and development, grading, choosing which embryo for transfer or freezing and thawing embryos for patients who are arriving for their transfer that afternoon. At the same time, the theatre has started and we are collecting oocytes for inseminations that day, preparing the sperm samples, IVF and ICSI procedures and starting the paperwork and dish preparations for the following day's patients… the lab is a busy place!
The embryology team are like family, we trust each other and depend on each other for the integrity of the work that we do. And the results at ReproMed show that. We are so grateful to you for allowing us to be part of this journey with you. It is absolutely our greatest honour and privilege to look after and mind your precious embryos before they find their home with you. There is nothing more rewarding than the feeling of watching them grow and giving them back to you! From the embryology team here at ReproMed, we wish you all very best in the creation of your families and we look forward to being introduced to your little 553s very soon!
Bina Miller is our Senior Embryologist