In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is a branch of assisted reproductive technology which involves fertilizing eggs with semen in a fluid medium, typically in a petri dish, then transferring the embryo to a human womb for pregnancy. When it was initially introduced in the late 1970’s, IVF was considered very controversial. Today, it is a routine part of the conversation among couples who are having trouble conceiving using traditional methods.
The field of IVF has grown substantially since its early days. It is estimated that about four million people alive today were conceived via IVF. An entire supply chain has grown up to support IVF clinics and labs. IVF clinics themselves are continually refining their methods in order to increase pregnancy rates and decrease costs. The technology employed by these clinics is cutting edge and includes cryogenic equipment, complex optical microscopes, and advanced micromanipulation devices.
- Optical Microscopy
IVF employs optical microscopes at many different stages of the process. In normal lab environments, optical microscopes face a minimal level of environmental limitation. However, in cases where common fertilization methods have failed, often due to low sperm count or abnormal sperm morphology, IVF scientists must rely on a procedure known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). ICSI involves injecting a single sperm directly into the center of the egg cell. ICSI requires using optical microscopes at high levels of magnification and manipulating small cells: the micromanipulators, microinjectors, and micropipettes employed in the process must remain at a constant distance from one another and the cells themselves must be stationary. Thus, this technique is extremely sensitive to environmental vibration levels. Since the cost implications of a failed attempt are so high, it is recommended to employ active vibration control systems at all ICSI workstations.
Another critical environmental factor to control in the IVF lab is temperature. Ex vivo cells and living tissues are extremely sensitive to temperature fluctuations; they will perish if exposed to temperature levels which are too high or too low. Given the high cost of extraction for sperm and eggs, IVF labs must go to great lengths to preserve them. This usually requires a heavy investment in cryogenic equipment and specialized thawing baths.