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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R041814/1
Title: Engineering Novel Imaging Technologies for Reproductive Health: Transforming IVF outcomes
Principal Investigator: Mahajan, Professor S
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Sch of Chemistry
Organisation: University of Southampton
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 February 2018 Ends: 31 January 2020 Value (£): 244,593
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Med.Instrument.Device& Equip.
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
The aim of this proposal is to take cutting edge imaging techniques and use them to improve the outcomes of assisted reproduction treatment procedure also known as in-vitro fertilisation or IVF. Whilst IVF has been used for almost 40 years now, it remains a largely unsuccessful procedure (only 26% of cycles end with a live birth) and is expensive for patients to use (~£5000 for a basic cycle, typically >1 cycle is needed). During the procedure, a woman's eggs are taken and fertilised by sperm in the clinic. They are then incubated for several days and the best embryo is selected and returned to the patient. The main problem is that the embryologist has very little information helping them to choose, and does not know which embryo is the best.

We know some of the more common causes of failure include embryos that have the wrong number of chromosomes (DNA material) and embryos that that are not metabolising at the correct rate - this is difficult to determine without destroying the eggs. We are proposing two new imaging techniques to address these problems as follows: Firstly, we will use coherent Raman microscopy (CRM). This allows us to image specific structures within cells by targeting less damaging lasers to match the vibrations of certain types of molecules. In this case we propose to target the DNA allowing us to see inside the cells and image the chromosomes. We can therefore watch the chromosome divisions inside growing embryos and be alerted if the divisions are abnormal. Secondly, we will use the technique of two-photon fluorescence (TPF). With this we can image molecules that are part of the metabolic pathway in cells. Their ability to emit light changes depending on the metabolism of the cell and so we can determine the metabolic activity within each cell of an embryo, allowing defective ones to be discarded early on and the best ones to be selected.

This proposal aims to combine these two imaging techniques into a single bench-top embryo-imaging devic. The device will be ground-breaking in that it will combine two useful diagnostic readings, it will only use near-infrared light, which is far less damaging than the current visible light microscopes, and it will use a light-sheet configuration. This novel configuration means the embryo is illuminated by a plane of light from the side, instead of the conventional focussed laser spot. This approach is again far less damaging than the conventional method and also speeds up image capture. The end result is a much healthier way to image an embryo. In this proposal we will develop the two new techniques, and combine them in the novel light-sheet microscope configuration. We will then test their ability to distinguish the best from the worst embryos, initially using mouse embryos as a test model. Later and with the required ethical permissions we will test the device on donated, or discarded human eggs.

Our vision is that the embryologist will be able to peer inside the embryo and have a wealth of information available to them. They will then only transfer the best embryos to the patient, increasing greatly the chances of success and reducing the suffering and financial difficulties of repeated failures to conceive that are currently experienced by IVF patients. Since this is now emerging as a global issue, there is an increasing demand for IVF worldwide and consequently the need for an improved technological solution. This presents a huge business opportunity as well besides the fact that it will reduce the distress, treatment burden and costs for patients.
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.soton.ac.uk