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Family Planning Center for Pushkin District (St. Petersburg): ZEISS Microscopy in Reproductive Technologies

In 2015 the Family Planning Center for Pushkin District (St. Petersburg) and OPTEC concluded a cooperation agreement and established a joint Consulting Center for Assisted Reproductive Technologies for In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) professionals.

As part of the cooperation agreement, experts from OPTEC and the Family Planning Center have held consultations on how to operate the laboratory equipment, shared information on innovative techniques, events and recent advances, and taken part in joint consultations for employees from other companies. Today, assisted reproductive technologies in St. Petersburg are on the rise. We talked to Alexey Gryaznov, Head of the Embryological Laboratory at the Family Planning Center, about the Center, assisted reproductive technologies, and the Center’s research efforts.

 — Mr Gryaznov, please tell us about the key priorities of the Family Planning Center.

 — The Center is a medical and preventive treatment facility, which uses assisted reproductive technology for fertility treatment. The treatment is offered both as part of the State Guarantee Program under the compulsory health insurance scheme and on a paid basis for those not covered by the State Guarantee Program. We provide all kinds of services in each and every key area. Our services range from male factor infertility treatment, including azoospermia, that is, we perform surgical extraction of sperm, to female factor infertility treatment and various genetic disorders that may run in a family. We do genetic testing in line with the transportation schedule: in our center, we can perform embryo biopsies at different stages, depending on the testing method to be used, and send the results to a relevant laboratory.

 — Today, many health clinics offer fertility treatment services. What makes your center different?

 — There are statistical data on IVF cycles performed under various state guarantee programs in St. Petersburg, which means that all results are thoroughly recorded. According to the 2016 data available on the website of the City Fertility Treatment Center, we are now the leader in terms of the number of transfers of one embryo. Approximately 90% of our cases result in a transfer of one embryo and we are very proud of it: no one else can come close, not even Scandinavia, for example. This is important for the prevention of multifetal pregnancy, which often leads to higher risks for a pregnant woman and has a substantial negative impact on newborns. In our clinic, we do our best to avoid it. This year, we have performed 173 IVF cycles, with almost 40% of clinical pregnancies per embryo transfer. If we take into account the total scope of work we do, this figure also makes us the leader in St. Petersburg.

 — Do you share your experience with your colleagues from other clinics?

 — We at the Center hold regular consultations and provide methodological support for end users of the equipment and clinic managers. Sharing our experience is essential because nowadays embryology is a dynamically developing branch and one has to keep up to date on what is happening in the world of science and technology.

For example, we use the ZEISS Axio Observer microscope, the modification of which features three contrasts, including the unique PlasDIC contrast for plastic dishes, has a solid thermostage and a special lens optimized for working with such a stage as it is the only one of its kind. This is very important for our industry, and we share it with our colleagues. The microscope allows us to make an advanced in-depth examination of both sperm cells and embryos using the same system because you need different contrast modes for these purposes. Using this microscope, we can revolutionize the selection process by selecting the best sperm cells without ultrastructural anomalies and switching freely to another contrast mode to select the best embryo for transfer. Moreover, the solution offered for the double bottom lens of the solid thermostage makes it possible to perform intracytoplasmic sperm injections into oocytes without any compromise and in full compliance with the temperature chain. It is really crucial. In embryology, they often work with thermostages with a hole. In this case, there is a gain in visualization, but because of the hole the stage heats unevenly, and the temperature chain is affected. If a solid stage is used, we have a gain in temperature chain but a standard lens will provide a poor-quality visualization. But with the unique ZEISS lens we use a solid thermostage along with plastic dishes and are not at disadvantage in any aspects. This means excellent visualization and compliance with the temperature chain. It is critical for ova because it is the unbroken temperature chain that ensures stable division. That is why it is so important. The temperature chain and compliance with it are a prerequisite for genetically healthy embryos to form since it prevents abnormal chromosome disjunction during embryo division.

 — Does the Center carry out research?

 — Yes, in addition to practical activities, fertility experts and embryologists who work at the Center carry out all kinds of research and often attend conferences, workshops and congresses on assisted reproductive technologies in Russia and abroad. Our laboratory works closely with the Sechenov Institute for Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry under the Russian Academy of Sciences and a number of international centers, e.g. with the University of Poitiers in France. We have developed new embryo culture methods for various conditions and have just presented the results in New York. These findings will also be published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Our embryo culture developments related to mature females were published in the Reproductive BioMedicine journal; we also present these findings at international conferences.

It should be noted that patients of advanced maternal age are now the most common and complex group. When we analyzed the work of our clinic, we came to a clear conclusion that such patients can definitely benefit from the developments in this particular area. On the one hand, we are committed to providing the best treatment to our patients; on the other hand, we develop the most efficient embryo culture strategies and fertilization techniques. Which sperm we will process, when and how we will do it, how we will fertilize ova of this or that patient is very variable and I think it’s very important.

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