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Preview: Molecular Human Reproduction - current issue

MHR: Basic science of reproductive medicine Current Issue

Published: Sat, 01 Apr 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Last Build Date: Mon, 10 Apr 2017 04:46:27 GMT


Application of microfluidic technologies to human assisted reproduction


Microfluidics can be considered both a science and a technology. It is defined as the study of fluid behavior at a sub-microliter level and the investigation into its application to cell biology, chemistry, genetics, molecular biology and medicine. There are at least two characteristics of microfluidics, mechanical and biochemical, which can be influential in the field of mammalian gamete and preimplantation embryo biology. These microfluidic characteristics can assist in basic biological studies on sperm, oocyte and preimplantation embryo structure, function and environment. The mechanical and biochemical characteristics of microfluidics may also have practical and/or technical application(s) to assisted reproductive technologies (ART) in rodents, domestic species, endangered species and humans. This review will consider data in mammals, and when available humans, addressing the potential application(s) of microfluidics to assisted reproduction. There are numerous sequential steps in the clinical assisted reproductive laboratory process that work, yet could be improved. Cause and effect relations of procedural inefficiencies can be difficult to identify and/or remedy. Data will be presented that consider microfluidic applications to sperm isolation, oocyte cumulus complex isolation, oocyte denuding, oocyte mechanical manipulation, conventional insemination, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, embryo culture, embryo analysis and oocyte and embryo cryopreservation. While these studies have progressed in animal models, data with human gametes and embryos are significantly lacking. These data from clinical trials are requisite for making future evidence-based decisions regarding the application of microfluidics in human ART.

Microfluidic analysis of oocyte and embryo biomechanical properties to improve outcomes in assisted reproductive technologies


Measurement of oocyte and embryo biomechanical properties has recently emerged as an exciting new approach to obtain a quantitative, objective estimate of developmental potential. However, many traditional methods for probing cell mechanical properties are time consuming, labor intensive and require expensive equipment. Microfluidic technology is currently making its way into many aspects of assisted reproductive technologies (ART), and is particularly well suited to measure embryo biomechanics due to the potential for robust, automated single-cell analysis at a low cost. This review will highlight microfluidic approaches to measure oocyte and embryo mechanics along with their ability to predict developmental potential and find practical application in the clinic. Although these new devices must be extensively validated before they can be integrated into the existing clinical workflow, they could eventually be used to constantly monitor oocyte and embryo developmental progress and enable more optimal decision making in ART.

Microfluidics for mammalian embryo culture and selection: where do we stand now?


The optimization of in-vitro culture conditions and the selection of the embryo(s) with the highest developmental competence are essential components in an ART program. Culture conditions are manifold and they underlie not always evidence-based research but also trends entering the IVF laboratory. At the moment, the idea of using sequential media according to the embryo requirements has been given up in favor of the use of single step media in an uninterrupted manner due to practical issues such as time-lapse incubators. The selection of the best embryo is performed using morphological and, recently, also morphokinetic criteria. In this review, we aim to demonstrate how the ART field may benefit from the use of microfluidic technology, with a particular focus on specific steps, namely the embryo in-vitro culture, embryo scoring and selection, and embryo cryopreservation. We first provide an overview of microfluidic and microfabricated devices, which have been developed for embryo culture, characterization of pre-implantation embryos (or in some instances a combination of both steps) and embryo cryopreservation. Building upon these existing platforms and the various capabilities offered by microfluidics, we discuss how this technology could provide integrated and automated systems, not only for real-time and multi-parametric monitoring of embryo development, but also for performing the entire ART procedure. Although microfluidic technology has been around for a couple of decades already, it has still not made its way into the clinics and IVF laboratories, which we discuss in terms of: (i) a lack of user-friendliness and automation of the microfluidic platforms, (ii) a lack of robust and convincing validation using human embryos and (iii) some psychological threshold for embryologists and practitioners to test and use microfluidic technology. In spite of these limitations, we envision that microfluidics is likely to have a significant impact in the field of ART, for fundamental research in the near future and, in the longer term, for providing a novel generation of clinical tools.

Integration of microfluidics in animal in vitro embryo production


The in vitro production of livestock embryos is central to several areas of animal biotechnology. Further, the use of in vitro embryo manipulation is expanding as new applications emerge. ARTs find direct applications in increasing genetic quality of livestock, producing transgenic animals, cloning, artificial insemination, reducing disease transmission, preserving endangered germplasm, producing chimeric animals for disease research, and treating infertility. Whereas new techniques such as nuclear transfer and intracytoplasmic sperm injection are now commonly used, basic embryo culture procedures remain the limiting step to the development of these techniques. Research over the past 2 decades focusing on improving the culture medium has greatly improved in vitro development of embryos. However, cleavage rates and viability of these embryos is reduced compared with in vivo indicating that present in vitro systems are still not optimal. Furthermore, the methods of handling mammalian oocytes and embryos have changed little in recent decades. While pipetting techniques have served embryology well in the past, advanced handling and manipulation technologies will be required to efficiently implement and commercialize the basic biological advances made in recent years. Microfluidic systems can be used to handle gametes, mature oocytes, culture embryos, and perform other basic procedures in a microenvironment that more closely mimic in vivo conditions. The use of microfluidic technologies to fabricate microscale devices has being investigated to overcome this obstacle. In this review, we summarize the development and testing of microfabricated fluidic systems with feature sizes similar to the diameter of an embryo for in vitro production of pre-implantation mammalian embryos.

Microfluidic devices for the study of sperm migration


Microfluidics technology offers us an opportunity to model the biophysical and biochemical environments encountered by sperm moving through the female reproductive tract and, at the same time, to study sperm swimming dynamics at a quantitative level. In humans, coitus results in the deposition of sperm in the vagina at the entrance to the cervix. Consequently, sperm must swim or be drawn through the cervix, uterus, uterotubal junction and oviductal isthmus to reach the oocyte in the oviductal ampulla. Only a very small percentage of inseminated sperm reach the ampulla in the periovulatory period, indicating that strong selection pressures act on sperm during migration. A better understanding of how sperm interact with the female tract would inspire improvements in diagnosis of fertility problems and development of novel-assisted reproductive technologies that minimize damage to sperm and mimic natural selection pressures on sperm.