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Reproductive Clinic Uses RFID to Guarantee Parental Identity

At Overlake Reproductive Health, passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags and interrogators track human sperm, eggs and embryos throughout the assisted-reproduction process.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 15, 2007Overlake Reproductive Health, located in Bellevue, Wash., has become the first reproductive-medicine center in the United States to deploy an RFID-based system for tracking human eggs, sperm and embryos. This system should help ensure that no identity mistakes are made during collection, storage and fertilization.

A female client can visit the clinic to be artificially inseminated by a partner's sperm, or to have her egg fertilized in vitro (in a test tube) and then implanted in her uterus. For either procedure, the couple may worry that the sperm or egg might be accidentally switched with someone else's, resulting in a baby that is not biologically theirs. Although such mistakes rarely happen, the experience can be traumatic for parents when they do occur, subjecting a clinic to lawsuits and negative publicity.

Shaun Kelly
Until the RFID system was deployed in September, Overlake, like other in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics, relied on the diligence of its employees to ensure that samples were never confused. When a patient provides sperm or eggs, the specimen is marked with the client's name, and if transferred to another receptacle, it is again marked with that patients' name. Usually, two employees manually check the names to prevent a mistake from being made. That system had been working appropriately, says Overlake's laboratory director, Shaun Kelly, but patients were still uneasy.

At a recent American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) conference, Kelly happened upon Research Instruments, a U.K. manufacturer of RFID solutions, and saw a potential solution. "I was really intrigued by the whole thing from the get-go," he says. Research Instruments provided Overlake with IVF Witness, an RFID-based system that helps keep specimens from being inadvertently switched.

Upon arrival, a patient is provided an ID card containing a 13.56 MHz RFID chip complying with ISO standard 15693. A staff member at the front desk inputs data about the patient, and a Research Instruments RFID interrogator captures the ID card number, which is linked to that data.

Each specimen is placed in a container with an RFID tag affixed to its bottom. When the container is placed on an interrogator, the system prompts the user to assign a particular patient to that specimen. IVF Witness permanently links the container's tag ID number with that patient, so that the tag numbers for both sperm and eggs are input into the same patient account. When a specimen is sent to a lab, it passes several workstations, each equipped with an RFID reader. There are three readers in the sperm-prep lab; two in the embryology lab, where eggs are fertilized and developed; and one in the procedure room, where eggs are removed from a female client, and where sperm or embryos are implanted in the patient's uterus.

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