What is time-lapse imaging?

Timelapse fertilityObservations of embryos during IVF give embryologists a glimpse into the development of them.

Traditional observations involve bringing the embryos out of an incubator (an environment that mimics the conditions in a woman’s body), so that they can be looked at in more detail through a microscope.

There is a possibility that this could be stressful to the embryos because of the change in environmental conditions. To minimise the disturbance, microscopic observations are normally completed once a day or every other day. This is to assess how they’re developing ­- looking at their form, shape, appearance and development stage.

Checking them once a day or every other day could mean potentially missing significant events or changes during the embryo’s development. How the embryos develops is the primary factor in which they are selected and there are questions around how to get the most information from observing them without having to keep removing them from the incubator.

What is time-lapse imaging?

Time-lapse imaging could help with this issue. The technology uses a camera system placed within the incubator to take a photograph of the embryos every five or ten minutes. This is all done without removing them from the incubator at all.

These images are then combined together to make a video, which can be studied remotely on a computer to assess the changing development of the embryos. This technology also allows the embryologists to spot any abnormalities, which could possibly be missed during traditional assessment.

MicroscopeAs well as providing consistent monitoring, time-lapse imaging provides fertility specialists more information and helps them to choose the best embryo/s for you without causing any additional stress such as, environmental change and light.

With time-lapse observation, the embryos are placed in specially designed dishes, which can hold either nine or 16 embryos under ‘group culture’ conditions.

This means that they are kept in place so they can be monitored continuously and consistently. Group culture has shown to be beneficial to embryo development.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are research studies that say it’s not certain that time-lapse imagery can improve the chances of success. However, there is promising and supporting evidence that embryo selection or de-selection can be improved using the technology. It has also shown that embryo development can be improved in an undisturbed environment. These factors are vital in improving the chance of success in IVF procedures.

Transferring more embryos to maximise the chance of pregnancy commonly results in multiple births, which can be a risk for both mother and child. Using the detailed information from time-lapse imaging, embryologists can select the best embryos with more confidence, therefore significantly improving the success rate of a single-embryo transfer.

Jane SkeltonOur group fertility lead, Jane Skelton comments:

Initial results from time-lapse imaging studies are encouraging and it should benefit most patients undergoing IVF treatment, with the highest chances of improvement being seen in those patients that have a higher number of embryos to choose from.

It may also be of benefit for those patients that have had recurrent implantation failure and miscarriage by providing additional information about embryo development, which could assist in the future treatment of those patients.


In addition to this, time-lapse imaging may help to identify embryos that might be chromosomally abnormal as ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ embryos develop differently. Consequently, time lapse imaging may provide a means to ‘screen’ embryos to try and select only normal embryos to be transferred.

At BMI Healthcare, we offer time-lapse imaging at all of our fertility centres as well as other related treatments including, private In-vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment, egg freezing and Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)

To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337 

or make an online enquiry.

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