A tiny new medical device has been developed by Australian researchers that will transform the only fertility treatment procedure available for men with low sperm counts, with implications for the success of IVF and beyond into regenerative medicine.
A research team led by the University of Adelaide, in partnership with medical technology company Fertilis, has created the groundbreaking technology that allows injection of a single sperm into an egg for fertilisation with greater ease and accuracy, according to an article in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics.
WHY IT MATTERS
Until now, Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) has been a slow and difficult procedure only able to be carried out by experienced embryologists. But the new 3D-printed petri dish technology, which is smaller than a pinhead, recreates an embryo’s natural environment, and allows for the process to be automated to reduce human contact and error.
The innovation – the culmination of 40 years of IVF research and backed by investors behind Spotify and Zoom – will cut treatment time in half and improve access to ICSI for more patients.
Infertility affects one in seven couples but IVF is high cost with low success rates (11 per cent to 30 per cent).
“The procedure involves microscopic manipulation of sperm and eggs and it’s one of the most difficult to perform for IVF lab staff. Only the most experienced embryologists are given the responsibility to perform this procedure, as it requires a lot of training and there is a high risk that the egg doesn’t survive the injection during the procedure,” Professor Jeremy Thompson, device inventor and Fertilis co-founder, told Healthcare IT News.
“The lack of well-trained staff and quality operating conditions within some IVF laboratories limits people’s access to infertility treatment. Because our technique is quicker and easier, and uses less expensive equipment than the current technique used globally, we will reduce the barriers to delivering ICSI as a procedure and accessing ICSI as a treatment, making it available to more people. We also argue our technique will be safer, causing less stress to both the eggs and the embryologists, to ultimately deliver better quality embryos for more chances of a successful pregnancy from an IVF cycle.”
THE LARGER CONTEXT
The technology also increases cell culture accuracy, a development with implications for the treatment of cancer, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and spinal cord injury.
“We are taking IVF and stem cell culture from a laboratory, hands-on, technically demanding system to scalable, automated systems that have multiple applications,” Thompson said.
“This ‘democratises’ the availability of IVF and regenerative medicine to meet unmet needs that exist today.”
A cutting-edge printer provides the flexibility to design objects at the micrometre scale, with computer aided design software, and then print and assess the function of any new design concept.
“Our research has developed a new way of doing this procedure by developing a tiny, see-through egg ‘cradle’ that holds and protects eggs in the right position for injection, reducing the level of skill needed to perform the injection and better protecting eggs from damage.”
In January, Fertilis was reported to have raised AU$$2.75 million (US$1.89 million) to fund global clinical trials in 2022 and the expansion of its scientific development team.
The application of the “one device for many lab procedures” system into stem cell development is a breakthrough.
“Because we can 3D-print other designs and have the seamless exchange of formulated media during culture, this has significant application in fields such as regenerative medicine, particularly in stem cell growth and development for tissue and organ replacement,” Thompson said.
The development was supported by the Australian Research Council and The Hospital Research Foundation Group.