Why good incubator management is critical for IVF clinics

There is a large and growing number of fertility clinics throughout the UK, all registered on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) database.  Each clinic is carefully monitored and assessed by the HFEA to ensure patients are protected and receive a service of high standard – even the clinic’s ‘Success Rates’ and ‘Inspection Reports’ are published online.

Clinics naturally want to increase their success rates due to the high stakes of this application and attract clients, for example an unsuccessful cycle can cost the patient approximately £3000.  Potential patients also use the ‘Success Rates’ to help them choose which clinic to use.

When an IVF cycle is not successful, the most common reason is due to the embryo having stopped growing before implantation.  Other possible factors to be considered include the uterine receptivity and the mechanics of the embryo transfer, but the large majority of unsuccessful IVF cycles can be attributed to embryo quality.

In order to maximise the potential for good quality embryos, optimum conditions must be met and environmental stress must be reduced as much as possible.  To achieve this eggs, sperm and the resulting embryos should be immediately transferred to the incubator.  Once in the incubator, it is vital that the conditions within the incubator remain optimal at all times.  Therefore good incubator management is key.

Optimal conditions for IVF success are 37oC temperature, 5% or 6% CO2 (depending on the media used), 5% O2 and no VOCs.  CO2 is particularly important as it controls the level of pH, which is vital to success.  pH must be 7.2 and 7.4, however, pH meters are often unreliable and cannot be placed into the media otherwise they will contaminate the sample.  Fortunately, there is a correlation between CO2 levels and pH so by regulating the CO2 you can regulate the pH.

It is often recommended that, because the conditions inside the incubator (and outside) are so vital, external verification is used.  This ensures that any inaccuracies in the incubator’s monitoring can be corrected – most incubators also only have one point of monitoring which will often not provide an accurate representation of the atmosphere inside the entire chamber.

Geotech’s G100 portable CO2 analyser has been specifically designed to ensure optimum conditions are met within an incubator to maintain a high quality of monitoring and plays a key role in good incubator management.

The G100 can also be used to measure O2, temperature and humidity directly inside the incubator or, where smaller chambers (e.g. desktop incubators) are used, it can measure the gas directly from a tank if it is pre-mixed.

The dedicated Analyser Data Manager software also allows the user to log the data, draw graphs and can be used for auditing purposes using the ‘Historical Data’ facility.

By externally monitoring the incubator conditions with the G100, embryologists can rest assured they are maximising the chances of success.