14/08/2014 16:49 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

'Time-Lapse Imaging' Hailed As Biggest Breakthrough In IVF Treatment For 35 Years

'Time-lapse imaging' hailed as biggest breakthrough in IVF treatment for 35 years

Women undergoing IVF are three times more likely to have a baby through a new 'time-lapse imaging' technique - the biggest fertility breakthrough for 35 years.

The advance means that couples undergoing treatment could have a 78 per cent chance of success, compared with average 'live birth' IVF rates of around 25 per cent in Britain.

The technique uses 'time-lapse imaging' to take thousands of photographs of developing embryos and pinpoint those least likely to carry chromosomal abnormalities.

Only those most likely to result in a healthy pregnancy are then implanted.

The scientists behind the study claimed it as 'the most exciting and significant development for all patients seeking IVF' in at least 35 years.

The technique, which is being used in four clinics in England, could dramatically improve the success rates for about 48,000 women who undergo fertility treatment each year.

It may also offer hope to older women who have ruled out IVF because most eggs are likely to carry abnormalities after the age of 40.

Professor Simon Fishel, managing director of CARE Fertility Group, said: "In the 35 years I have been in this field this is probably the most exciting and significant development that can be of value to all patients seeking IVF."

In most IVF labs, a developing embryo yet to be transferred to a womb will be checked up to six times over a five-day period.

The new technique works by monitoring the speed of development - pinpointing the time at which embryos which reach critical stages, and discarding those who are too slow, which indicates that cells may be carrying missing chromosomes or carrying ones.

The time lapse imaging allows more than 5,000 snapshots to be taken over the same time period.

The technique, which costs £750 on top of IVF costs of between £3,000 and £3,500 is now being used in the group's fertility clinics in Manchester, Sheffield, Northampton and Nottingham.

Alison Campbell, the company's embryology director, who led the research, said: "As a result of continuous monitoring, we have demonstrated that delays at defined time points indicate abnormal development."

However, there are voices of caution.

Dr Virginia Bolton from the assisted conception unit at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, said: "These results are very interesting but this is is a very small study and any interpretation of the findings must be made with caution as we are dealing with the hopes and expectations of patients."

And Sheena Lewis, professor of reproductive medicine at Queen's University, Belfast, said: "This may well be the technique we have been waiting for to improve embryo selection and thus success in fertility treatment.

"However, this is a small study with just 46 embryos being followed through to birth. Much more research will be needed before this becomes a routine clinical tool."