Making better embryos

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Researchers at the CRCHUM have made a breakthrough related to infertility.

One out of every six Canadian couples experiences infertility, and some resort to in vitro fertilization. Trouble is, the embryos obtained through this technique often have defects.


In a study published today in the journal Current Biology, researchers from the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) succeeded in reducing the number of defects in mouse embryos in the laboratory.


In the medium term, this unprecedented discovery could improve infertile couples’ chances of giving birth.


About half of the embryos generated during in vitro fertilization treatments contain cells with an abnormal number of chromosomes. This abnormality, called aneuploidy, is well-known in reproductive biology and is considered a major cause of infertility.


“In our study, we explain at least one of the reasons why this occurs," said Greg FitzHarris, a CRCHUM researcher and professor at UdeM. "We found that it’s due to a defect in a mechanism called the “spindle checkpoint. We also show that if we manipulate this checkpoint in mouse embryos by using a simple drug, we can reduce the chances of error by about half.”


By administering the right dose of this synthetic substance called proTAME, researchers observed that a larger percentage of cells of each of the mouse embryos had a normal number of chromosomes. In mice, a normal oocyte (ovum) contains 20 chromosomes, whereas in humans it contains 23.

Hope for humans?

Making the best possible embryo is one of the keys to success when it comes to in vitro fertilization.


The new discovery is still at the basic research stage, being conducted in the laboratory on mice. FitzHarris emphasizes that it’s very important to be cautious about its application to humans.


“The potential for transferring the technique to humans is clear," he said. "And I’m sure that fertility clinics would really like to try it in the hope of creating ‘better embryos.’ However, it would be very irresponsible to implement this concept clinically at this point, before safety tests have been successfully carried out."

About this study

“Cell size-independent spindle checkpoint failure underlies chromosome segregation error in mouse embryos,” by Cayetana Vázquez-Diez et al, was published Feb. 14, 2019 in Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.12.042

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Fondation Jean-Louis Lévesque.

The results of this study were the subject of a provisional patent application US 62/729,090 entitled "Method of reducing chromosome segregation error in cells of the early embryo" filed September 20, 2018.

About the CRCHUM

The University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) is one of North America’s leading hospital research centres. It strives to improve adult health through a research continuum covering such disciplines as the fundamental sciences, clinical research and public health. Over 2,300 people work at the CRCHUM, including more than 500 researchers and more than 520 graduate students. @CRCHUM

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