Time-lapse is a photographic function that consists of taking pictures with a constant time separation between them, in order to finally compose a sequence that shows the evolution of the photographed image from the beginning to the end.
What Is Time-Lapse?
This function has been introduced in incubators specifically designed for human embryo culture. These new incubators allow us to continuously monitor their development from the day of fertilisation (day 1) until the moment of transfer or freezing, which is usually on day 5 or 6 of development (blastocyst stage), according to the recommendation supported by all national and international scientific societies.
Embryo culture with time-lapse allows -adding a great advantage- a continuous evaluation of the embryo, unlike classical embryo culture, in which the embryos are evaluated only at specific moments during their evolution. The continuous evaluation of the embryos allows embryologists to obtain a greater degree of information on embryo development and embryo quality, and consequently, the possibility of making a better selection of embryos with greater implantation potential.
Link to a time-lapse video of embryo development at CREA:
Time-lapse technology has been introduced in many assisted reproduction laboratories thanks to the design of new incubators. These incubators are mostly of bench-top design: incubators that have individual culture departments for each patient, which combined with the time-lapse technology, offer the possibility to monitor embryo development under highly controlled and safe culture conditions.
With the use of time-lapse, there is no need to remove the embryo culture plates from the incubator for microscopic assessment. This advantage is essential, as it considerably reduces the need for manipulation of the embryos. This change in laboratory workflow offers greater safety during the IVF process.
In Which Cases Is It Particularly Recommended?
Culture with time-lapse incubators is becoming increasingly common in IVF laboratories. They can be used for all patients’ embryo culture, however, they are particularly recommended in the following cases:
- Patients with previous implantation failure
- Women of higher age
- Low oocyte and/or embryo quality
- Severe male infertility
- Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGT-A)
he use of time-lapse has made it possible to describe new events in human embryo development. This data provides valuable additional information that contributes to a more accurate assessment of embryo quality, which in turn allows for better selection when transferring or freezing embryos.
Likewise, the contribution of time-lapse technology is key to technological progress in embryology. Currently, the most powerful lines of research are exploring the possibility of using time-lapse images for the development of pregnancy prediction algorithms using artificial intelligence. These tools are being introduced in embryology laboratories as support elements for embryo selection, and aim to reduce the number of transfers needed per cycle to achieve a full-term pregnancy.
Minerva Ferrer Buitrago
Senior Embryologist, PhD.
Head of R&D at CREA (Valencia)