Lucky Ink: A few outlets reports an advance in embryo screening. Then wham – it’s caught up in Nobel Prize hurrahs.


We’ll be posting shortly with a big round up on today’s Nobel Prize in Physiology (medicine) for the man who turned in vitro fertilization from a concept to a clinical procedure. Which means it will be above this one on the list.

In the meantime – It’s often better to be lucky than good, but best to be both. On the lucky side today are those outlets that decided to report, via a study in Nature Biotechnology, that a Stanford University team says it can now tell shortly after fertilization which eggs are most likely to undergo smooth stages of division, through the blatocyst stage. That in turn is a predictor of viable embryos, healthy pregnancies, and eventually, babies. Thus we have a nifty bit of synchronicity. Not only is there a Nobel Prize in the news but a separate development of considerable heft that spotlights how important and vital is the field that the new Nobelist¬† launched.


  • Time Magazine – Alice Park: A New Way to Predict Which IVF Embryos Will Lead to Pregnancy; One presumes this is an update of a piece ready to go when the new from Sweden arose. The Nobel Prize is mentioned parenthetically. The story explains clearly, with the help of an embedded video, how recording the pace of early stages of division, at the zygote stage, provides strong clues to how well embryonic division will continue after transplant to the womb. This, it says here, should reduce the incentive to implant several early-stage embyos eggs in order to increase odds one will take (a practice that also raising chance that too many fetuses will develop, and thus risk that none will be fully healthy).
  • San Francisco Chronicle – Erin Allday: Human embryos’ odds of survival can be predicted. Her third graf gets to the essential point, in clear language, very well: The test “reveals with 93 percent accuracy (note, however, the standard news practice of citing stats with no suggestion at all of error bar/CP) which newly fertilized eggs would become blastocystts, and which would stop growing and die before they reach that stage.” Allday also notes high that this essential research was paid for entirely with private money – federal ukase forbids use of tax dollars for such studies that, in the end,¬† ought to mean the births of more, healthy babies.
  • Reuters – Maggie Fox: New method could make IVF more effective ; The basics are here. Story is too short for detail, but Fox also takes a stab at some of the more arcane results of the experiments, such as implication that one can observe which sets of parental genes – father or mother – are more strongly expressed in a given fertilized, dividing egg.
  • San Jose Mercury News – Lisa Krieger: Stanford researchers predict fate of tiny embryos ; A story with yet another secondary focus – beyond the basics of promising greater reliability and efficiency of IVF. Krieger describes in some detail how the research team made the movies, and the timeline of development it records. One learns that after watching health v. not-so-healthy eggs multiply, they realized the winners tend to follow a distinctive, and identifiable, mathematical algorithm. Presumably that means screening could included a high degree of automation. Or as she puts it, within days of fertilization an egg betrays whether it is already fated to live or die.
  • Bloomberg – Rob Waters: Embryo Movies May Let Doctors Identify Best Choices for Successful Implant; One learns something new with each version read. Waters also covers the essential primary news. I may have missed it in the stories above, but absorbed here that the 242 embryos tested experimentally had all been frozen within 18 hours of fertilization – then thawed for the video of subsequent development.
  • Independent (UK) Steve Connor: New technique promises to take the lottery out of IVF ; Hed seems a bit flippant for something as serious as getting safely pregnant, but the metaphor sure does work. Story is intelligently and knowingly written. Is also has common¬† Brit-style science news enthusiasm – calling this a landmark study and a breakthrough likely to bring to an end much of the trauma now wrought by failed (or overly successful) embryo.
  • BBCChecks ‘predict embryo success’ ;
  • Sydney Morning Herald – Kate Benson: Time-lapse pictures could help success rate for IVF pregnancies ; She gets opinion from Australian specialists that this work is fine,but not such a big deal Down Under as few multiple-embryo transfers are performed there anyway. One is unsure whether that is more important than the possibility one could soon tell which specific, single embryo in a lot is most promising.
  • USA Today – Rita Rubin : In-vitro fertilization pioneer Robert Edwards wins Nobel Prize ; plus (ScienceFair blog) Dan Vergano: Embryo images reveal keys to reproductive success ;

Grist for the Mill:

Stanford University Press Release (via EurekAlert!) ; Auxogyn (company licensed by Stanford to commercialize this) Press Release via PR newswire;

Charlie Petit