Rise of the ‘cellfie’ – baby photos now begin at fertilisation

By: The Telegraph, Sarah Knapton

For anyone born before the 1950s their earliest baby pictures are likely to be at a few days old.

Fast forward several decades and parents could take home an image of their child just 12 weeks after conception thanks to the advent of ultrasound and cheap printers.

But groundbreaking fertility technology is allowing the family album to begin at fertilisation with parents increasingly asking for images of their children when they are just a few cells in a petri dish.

In recent years, IVF clinics have developed cutting-edge timelapse photography which was designed to monitor cell development in the first few days, so that doctors can pick the healthiest embryo for implantation in the womb and boost the chances of having a baby.

But the ‘embryoscope’ technique has also allowed parents to witness the mysterious beginnings of their child’s life at the very moment of conception, and in the crucial few days after fertilisation.

The very first image of Jaycie Jones at the first minute of her life 

Clinics are also set to start trialling technology to allow prospective mothers and fathers to logon to the live footage as the embryos are developing so they can ‘watch over’ their offspring while still in the lab.

Professor Charles Kingsland, of the Hewitt Fertility Centre at Liverpool, said: “Timelapse technology has allowed us to get all these images from the first few days after conception and put them on a USB stick sto that parents have pictures of their children, literally, from day one, when they are still in the laboratory.

“But it won’t be long before parents will be able to dial into the clinic using a unique number and see how their embryos are getting on in real time.

“Embryos are very sensitive, so in the past we could only get them out every 24 hours and have a look at how they were doing, but now we photograph them every 10 minutes. It’s opened up this whole new area of ‘baby pictures.’”

Jaycie Jones, now two, was one of the first babies to have the new timelapse treatment with Care Fertility in Nottingham, which means her parents Paula Chapman, 38, and Paul Jones, 35, were able to keep a complete record of development, from just a few cells in a dish, right up to her birth.

Jaycie Jones at one day old 

The couple decided to try IVF after failing to become pregnant for two years. The clinic in Nottingham had just begun using Embyoscope incubators, which as well as maintaining the necessary conditions to nurture an embryo, also has a video microscope camera that captures images every 10 minutes and records them as a record of embryonic development for five days after conception.

The clinic also sent them a scan picture every month to allow the family to build up an accurate record of Jaycie’s progress.

Jacie shown on an ultrasound

Professor Simon Fishel, the couples IVF doctors and founder of Care Fertility, Britain’s largest private fertility clinic said that it allowed parents and clinicians to see babies grown from just two cells to the 100 trillion cells of a human being.

“Patients are downloading the images of the embryo from fertilisation to the moment of transfer (blastocyst 5 days later) from our unique portal on our website; thereby starting their baby’s photo album from the moment of conception. The modern baby photo album can now begin in the IVF lab.

“For many there is great advantage of bonding early on. And it truly visualises the miracle of the human child.”

Wanda Georgiades, Director of Operations at Care Fertility said it was becoming more common for parents to ask to see the ‘cellfie’ images.

“We send a link to the patients with their timelapse film direct from the incubator which begins literally from fertilisation of eggs and sperm. One couple played it on their TV for their friends to watch.”

The new technology has also greatly enhanced the chance of having a baby. In women aged over 38 doctors have seen a 50 per cent rise in success rates when the timelapse system is used.