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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 March, 2005, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
Watchdog considers IVF barcodes
IVF sample
There have been a number of IVF mix ups
Barcodes or electronic tags may be used to mark eggs, sperm and embryos and prevent IVF blunders.

Scientists are developing technology in which an alarm would sound if the wrong egg and sperm were placed too close to each other.

The idea is being considered by the UK's fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

Concerns were raised after a mix-up at Leeds General Infirmary in which mixed race twins were born to a white couple.

We are always looking for new ways to ensure safety and consistency in laboratory practice
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

The error, which occurred in 2002, was put down to misreading of sperm samples at the hospital.

Similar accidents have occurred in the US and the Netherlands.

Last year an independent report commissioned by the Chief Medical Officer for England suggested clinics use a system of double witnessing to minimise the risk of mistakes.

This requires an embryologist to witness and document every procedure in which an error could occur.

However, there are concerns that this would be too labour intensive, and that it would not rule out the possibility of human error.

Liverpool trial

Researchers are developing more hi-tech solutions to the problem.

New Scientist magazine reports that IMT International, a Chester-based firm, has developed a barcoding system for IVF procedures.

Digital cameras built into the IVF clinic's benches record the barcodes off the bottom of labelled dishes containing eggs.

A computer then reads the codes, and sounds an alarm if they do not match with the patient.

The system is already in use in Germany and Israel, and has recently been trialled at Liverpool Women's Hospital.

A similar system, using electronic tags, is being developed by Falmouth-based Research Instruments.

The tags can be placed on the bottom of a dish containing an embryo, and are activated by radio waves which transmit across a clinic's designated work areas.

When activated, the tags respond by transmitting a unique ID code.

Again, if the samples do not match an alarm sounds.

A HFEA spokesman said the authority was always looking for new ways to ensure safety and consistency in laboratory practice, but added the safety to the embryos in any new technique was "paramount".

We don't expect major changes in the short term as these techniques are still in their infancy," he added.




SEE ALSO:
Barcodes 'stop baby mix-ups'
22 Jan 03 |  Health
Hospital tests barcoding patients
07 Jun 04 |  Technology


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