Assisted reproduction is a combination of biomedical techniques that facilitate or replace the natural processes that occur during reproduction. These techniques have allowed for thousands of couples to be parents who otherwise would have not achieved it. These treatments are increasingly extended, so that today, techniques such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization or fertility preservation are known by almost anyone.

In Assisted Reproductive Treatments (ART) a number of both human and technical elements are involved about which we would like you to know more. One of the professionals who is key to the process of assisted reproduction is the embryologist. To know more about this function, Maria Angeles Carracedo, embryologist of IMED Hospitals in Spain, explains what her job consists of.

What is the role of an embryologist in assisted reproduction techniques?

The embryologist is a biologist specialized in assisted reproduction and who at the In Vitro Fertilization laboratory works with gametes (sperm and eggs) and embryos to help couples with fertility problems achieve pregnancy.

In an Artificial insemination, the embryologist is responsible for preparing and selecting the best quality sperm (motility and morphology) to be introduced into the uterus of the woman.

In an In Vitro Fertilization, at the stage of the follicular puncture, the embryologist is responsible for searching the oocytes in follicular fluid and incubates them in a culture medium until the time of insemination. Meanwhile, the semen is prepared, either from the partner or an anonymous donor, to later inseminate the oocytes. Using the technique known as ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), the embryologist proceeds to introduce sperm into each oocyte through a microneedle under a microscope.

During the days after, the fertilization of the oocyte will be evaluated, just as the development of the resulting embryos, observing how they divide up until they have the right morphological characteristics to be transferred to the womb.

By the time of the transfer, the embryologist and gynecologist together with the patient decide about the appropriate number of embryos that will be transferred, which cannot be more than three per cycle. Through a small catheter the embryos are guided through the uterine neck to be deposited in the uterus. If there are any remaining viable embryos from the cycle they will be preserved through cryopreservation for possible use in the future.

During this process, in addition to the techniques of in vitro fertilization and observation of embryos, the embryologist is responsible for maintaining the environmental conditions and best techniques in the laboratory for the embryo culture to be adequate. Maintenance, servicing and calibration of the laboratory equipment used, controlling environmental conditions (humidity, temperature and air quality of the laboratory) also keeping control of the amount of material used and laboratory culture media .

The embryologist also takes care of calling the patients to inform them about the development of embryos, and replying to any questions they may have.

As you can see, the tasks performed by the embryologist in any assisted reproduction treatment are many, both direct patient care, and maintenance of the laboratory.