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EK involved in large-scale project using Lab-on-a-Chip technology to aid conception


Researchers from the Microsystems Laboratory of the Centre for Energy Research were involved in the recently completed large-scale project led by the University of Pécs aimed at increasing the number of artificial inseminations (in vitro fertilization) by developing a new diagnostic test method based on chip technology.

Since the birth of the first 'test-tube baby', obstetricians have been using microscopic examinations to select which embryo might be most successful after implantation. For decades, medical science has been working to improve upon this visual inspection method and increase the 30% embryo adhesion success rate. Culture-based nutrient fluid diagnostic testing has been carried out at the University of Pécs for five years, with custom laboratory equipment and conditions and under special conditions.

As reported by Prof. Dr. Gábor L. Kovács, President of the János Szentágothai Research Center of the University of Pécs and the technical director of the project, the aim was to identify biomarkers that characterize a healthy embryo and can predict a successful and healthy pregnancy. Based on the results of the study, there is potential to classify embryos according to the presence and quantity of certain biomarkers. The long-term goal is to further develop the lab-on-a-chip method in order to be able to predict embryo adhesion and viability.

The János Szentágothai Research Centre of the University of Pécs and eight clinics and institutes from three faculties of the University of Pécs took part in the professional implementation. The other cooperating partners were 77 Elektronika Kft., the MFA Microsystems Laboratory (EK MFA) of the ELKH Centre for Energy Research, the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME SZAKT) and Semmelweis University (SE OVI). Approximately 100 people were involved in the project's implementation.

Professor Kovács said the project involved first-class professionals with expertise in the manufacture of nano-devices and microchips. By miniaturizing the device and simplifying the procedure, their goal was for the chip-based device to be able to immediately indicate from a single drop of fluid which embryo is more likely to develop into a baby, based on the composition of the nutrient fluid.

Accurate and rapid on-site – bedside, PoC – detection of specific marker molecules from body fluids or cell culture media is of paramount importance to effective diagnostic solutions. Advanced micro-technological procedures have made the production of complex, miniaturized – lab-on-a-chip and microfluidic – analytical systems cost-effective. The ELKH EC Microsystems Laboratory, led by Dr. Péter Fürjes, designed and manufactured an autonomous microfluidic chip for the project which is able to move the applied IVF medium at a controlled speed. The material structure and (micro) geometry of the implemented pre-industrial/laboratory-level microfluidic cassette were also optimized for the specific application.

An autonomous microfluidic cassette used in a diagnostic procedure related to human in vitro fertilization
Scanning electron micrograph of the microscopic structure of a microfluidic cassette

Over the course of the project, the partners helped to develop a chip diagnostic device that facilitates more effective assessment of embryonic viability. These joint pieces of research have laid the groundwork for further progress. In recent weeks, PTE has won a grant from the government to support the National Laboratory for Human Reproduction program, something which can help ensure product-oriented further development of the research and innovation results.

Project title: Application of chip technology to improve the efficiency of human in vitro fertilization

Tender: GINOP-2.3.2-15 Excellence of Strategic R&D Workshops (GINOP-2.3.2-15-2016-00021)