First babies born with ‘sperm robot’, potentially lowering IVF costs

"Robotic" Fertilization of the egg.

The first babies created with a sperm-injection robot were reportedly born thanks to an advanced procedure that experts say could cut the cost of IVF by thousands of dollars.

Engineers at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City used a robotic needle to insert sperm cells into an egg — resulting in two healthy embryos and eventually two baby girls, according to MIT’s Technology Review.

“It’s wild, isn’t it?” said the father of one of the infants, who asked to remain anonymous. “Until now it was always done manually.”

Advances in fertility include using remote-controlled needles and cameras to inject eggs into petri dishes, potentially eliminating the need for highly paid embryologists.

Santiago Mune, chief geneticist at Overture Life, the Spanish company that developed the sperm robot, said the technology could one day eliminate the need for patients to visit fertility clinics, where a single attempt to get pregnant can cost $20,000 in the US.

“[IVF] Should be cheap. And if a doctor can do it, it will happen,” said Munne.

"Robotic" Fertilization of the egg.
Engineers used a remote-controlled needle to insert sperm cells into the egg.
Overture Life

Munne believes the fertilization process could one day be automated and performed by a gynecologist, but he did not elaborate on how multiple eggs would be grown and retrieved in that setting.

Overture Life has filed a patent application describing a “biochip” for IVF labs with hidden reservoirs containing growth fluid and tiny channels for sperm to swim through — and other companies are getting in on the game.

At least half a dozen other start-ups have similar goals, including AutoIVF, IVF 2.0, Conceivable Life Sciences, which aims to tap into the $25 billion IVF industry.

"Robotic" Fertilization of the egg.
The technology may one day eliminate the need for patients to visit a fertility clinic for IVF.
Overture Life

Alan Murray, co-founder of Conceive Life, estimates that the average IVF baby in the US costs $83,000, including failed attempts, expensive fertility drugs and medical procedures that are often not covered by health care.

His firm aims to reduce costs by 70% by increasing success rates and reducing the cost of procedures with the help of robotics.

Every year, around 500,000 babies are born through IVF worldwide, but most people who need help having children cannot afford it or don’t have access to fertility drugs.

"Robotic" Fertilization of the egg.
A single IVF attempt in the US can cost up to $20,000.
Overture Life

“It’s a genuine demand,” Murray said. “The challenge is that these incredibly rich and eccentric countries can do it, but the rest of the world can’t. But they have demonstrated a genuine human need.”

But some fertility experts are skeptical that robotics will cut costs because they don’t solve the problem of aging eggs — a major reason fertility treatments fail.

Rita Vasena, a consultant at Conceivable, said the field has a history of introducing innovations without significantly increasing pregnancy rates.

"Robotic" Fertilization of the egg.
About 500,000 babies are born through IVF every year worldwide.
Overture Life

“Currency [is] Towards a pile-up of tests and technology rather than a genuine attempt to reduce access barriers,” she said.

In the case of the first babies created with a sperm robot, donor eggs were given to patients for free and implanted in the mother’s womb after high-tech insemination.

Overall, many fertility experts agree that IVF robots are inevitable in the future.

“We’re going to see an evolution of what an embryologist is,” said Kathleen Miller, chief scientist at Innovation Fertility, a chain of clinics in the South.

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