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Starting Life Off Right

By Ari Juels
Apr 01, 2005—The stories are rare but heartbreaking. Couples, hoping to build a family using in vitro fertilization, accidentally were given the wrong embryos.

Now, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the United Kingdom’s regulatory body for in vitro fertilization (IVF), is studying the use of RFID to prevent such mistakes from happening again. The system would be less cumbersome than the “double-witnessing” proposed in a report commissioned by the country’s chief medical officer last year. Under that system, clinical embryologists would be required to ask a colleague to witness and document every procedure in which an error could occur. But with about 25 procedures for each round of IVF, clinics think the system is too labor intensive. And it still leaves room for human error.

Enter Research Instruments, a Falmouth, England, company that has developed IVF Witness, which uses 13.5 MHz tags to automatically track sperm and eggs throughout the IVF process and ensure that the resulting embryo is transferred to the correct mother. If lab personnel try to use the wrong samples by bringing sperm and eggs from different couples into the same work area, for example, the system automatically sounds an audio and visual alarm. The company says its technology also provides “automatic witnessing” through each stage of the IVF cycle.

A spokesperson for HFEA says that more research needs to be done before the system could be implemented. But Stephen Troup, an embryologist at Liverpool Women’s Hospital and an investigator on HFEA’s advisory group on safety and new technologies, says he’s optimistic that testing will show RFID tags to be safe for in vitro procedures.
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