Optimizing embryo culture conditions and spent culture media analysis as predictors of embryo quality and pregnancy
The aim of this thesis is first, to evaluate various culture conditions to improve embryo development, and secondly, to analyze spent culture media for any biomarkers that may be predictive of embryo health. Single-step and sequential culture media were compared in both Planer and EmbryoScope™ incubators. Single-step media resulted in better blastocyst development compared to sequential media and the EmbryoScope™ incubation system showed slight improvements in embryo development than the Planer system. The benefits of supplementing the culture medium with either insulin or insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) or culturing in a 2% O2 environment, using two different strains of mice (hybrid and C57), as well as the suitability of these strains for quality control were compared. In insulin, hybrid embryos were slower to blastulate and had a lower blastocyst rate, whereas C57 embryos were slower to the morula and faster to blastocyst stages, and lower blastocyst rate than the controls. IGF-1 showed no difference in time-lapse morphokinetics (TLM) or blastocyst rates compared to controls in both hybrid and C57 embryos. Under 2% O2, hybrid embryos showed no significant difference in TLM up to the 8-cell stage, but slowed down afterwards, resulting in blastocysts with significantly lower cell counts than the 6% O2 group. The C57 embryos were slower to reach morula and expanded blastocyst, and had lower blastocyst rates in 2%O2 vs 6%O2. The C57 strain had significant slower overall embryo development for all time points than hybrid embryos in insulin, IGF-1 and ultra-low O2, as well as lower blastocyst rates. Measurement of growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF-9) and oxidation-reduction potential (ORP) in spent media as markers for embryo health were evaluated. Day 5 human blastocysts yielded higher pregnancy rates and GDF-9 levels in spent media compared to Day 6 blastocysts, but TLM parameters showed no impact on pregnancy outcome. In Day 6 blastocysts, the non-pregnant group showed significantly faster embryo development compared to the clinically pregnant group up to the 8-cell stage and start of blastulation. GDF-9 did not show any significant differences between non-pregnant and pregnant groups of Day 5 or Day 6 embryo transfers. ORP in spent media from good quality Day 3 embryos that developed into blastocysts were significantly higher than from those that did not, with no difference in control medium ORP. Spent media from arrested embryos showed lower ORP than their corresponding controls. Arrested embryos had slower development at syngamy, morula, blastulation and blastocyst stages. The single step medium in the EmbryoScope™ is the preferred choice for embryo culture. Insulin or IGF-1 media supplementation or 2% O2 culture did not provide any benefit to embryo development. The C57 mouse strain is more sensitive and may be better to detect changes in culture conditions, and therefore better model for quality control assays. GDF-9 values decrease from Day 5 to Day 6 which gives new insight to understanding the role of GDF-9 during embryogenesis. ORP in spent media indicate that embryos that developed into blastocysts did not contribute to ROS, but maintained ORP balance.