Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART): Assisted Hatching

The use of ART, or assisted reproductive technology, is common among couples facing fertility-related problems. Assisted reproductive technology can be used in various forms. Common examples include IVF (in vitro fertilization) and IUI (intrauterine insemination). Among the methods used as a part of ART, Assisted Hatching is among the more recent of introductions. As the name suggests, this procedure is done after the formation of the embryo, i.e. after fertilization of the ovum and sperm has been successfully established.

About Assisted Hatching

Assisted Hatching is used when the embryo is incapable of hatching or emerging out of its outer, protective covering and implanting itself into the uterine tissue. The embryo is covered in various nutritional coatings, each important to ensure that the developing embryo is provided with sufficient nutrients. The zone pellucida is one such layer, formed of complex proteins. It also protects the embryo from implantation shock that can otherwise harm the embryo. However, once the embryo is introduced into the female reproductive tract, it should emerge out of this layer so that it can attach itself to the inner linings of the uterus. Sometimes, the zona pellicuda can be too thick and prevent this natural process. Assisted hatching ensures that the embryo can successfully implant itself by artificially weakening the outer lining of the embryo.

Candidates for Assisted Hatching

Apart from the scenario of an excessively-thickened zona pellucida, Assisted Hatching is indicated among:

  • Couples seeking ART treatment wherein the age of the female is over 37. Usually, women around the age of 39 seeking ART treatments like IVF often need assisted hatching.
  • Fertilized eggs that have elevated FSH levels. Excessive quantities of follicle stimulation hormone are indicative of a deteriorating embryo. Thus, waiting for the embryo to hatch in a natural manner poses a direct threat to its survival chances.
  • Couples with a history of failed implantation during IVF treatments, wherein assisted hatching is used as a precaution to ensure better implantation survival rate.

How Assisted Hatching Is Done

This is a highly specialized procedure provided by fertility clinics equipped with the latest advances in fertility treatment technologies. It is usually attempted during the fourth day of embryonic development. The embryo is secured in an artificial environment that is usually a culture solution. The fertility technician holds the embryo with a pipette. A very thin needle is used to dispel a trace quantity of a special acidic formulation along the outer layering of the embryo. The acidic solution digests the proteins in the zona pellucida, creating a microscopic hole. The embryo is clinically washed and placed in its incubator.

Risks of Assisted Hatching

Assisted hatching is common among couples seeking in vitro fertilization. However, this procedure can also damage the embryos if not done by trained personnel. The biggest threat of assisted hatching is the possibility of giving birth to identical twins—monozygotic twins. The technique used in assisted hatching can mistakenly divide the embryo into two identical halves if the needles are inserted too deep. Other possible fetal complications include the risk of physical deformities.

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