The Miguel Hernández University (MHU) of Elche and the Reproduction Unit of the Vistahermosa Clinic of Alicante (Spain) have presented a unique system that simulates the environment of an embryology laboratory and avoids the waste of valuable human biological material and breakages of medical equipment.
The Embryologist Station Training (TEST) consists of a console and a software that allow beginners to train the process of Intracytoplasmic Sperm Microinjection, one of the current most successful techniques of assisted reproductive techniques. The simulator will facilitate a better understanding of the whole process to students, but also will help to students and practitioners to improve their sensitivity with the controls and their capability for the immobilization and capture of sperm, the positioning of ovules and sperm microinjection.
"We have slightly adapted the control panel of a micromanipulator to make cheaper the product but we get the same precision as the original. Thus, with only two controllers and two joysticks students can be trained into the different phases of the procedure without supervision," said Federico Botella, leader of the Research Group Webdecision from the Center of Operations Research (CIO) Institute at the MHU. The console is easy to use, compact and portable. You only need a single USB cable to connect the console to a computer or laptop, so you can practice out of the embryology laboratory at your own pace.
Real micromanipulators offer no numerical support. All the process is visual. The embryologist has to focus pipettes and position objects in a 3D world that is viewed in two dimensions across the microscope. The software designed in the MHU offers two levels: beginner and expert. In the first mode, the system provides numerical aid, such as the position of the pipette or changing the colour of the tail of sperm when it is immobilized. The software also includes some warnings, as broken needle or pierced ovule. These warnings also appear in expert mode, but here the user has no numerical indications during the process. Also, Federico Botella explained: "During the training, different types of oocytes and sperm appear randomly so that the future professionals gain experience with a variety of diseases and complications. In addition, the software will keep track of successes and failures during the tests."
The EmbryoTraining project began through the collaboration between Federico Botella and Dr. José-Jesús López-Gálvez, director of the Reproduction Unit. The Vistahermosa Clinic has offered the University Specialist course in Human Reproductive Biology since 2001, where students practice ovule fertilization. The problem is that the equipment is very expensive and sometimes breaks during practices, and becomes unusable for the next day's work. At the same time, valuable human biological material is discarded, mainly oocytes, and so does clinical material such as needles and pipettes. According to Professor Botella: "When I met Dr. López-Gálvez he suggested the idea of developing a computer simulator that would make training easier and cheaper. At the WebDecision Research Group of the CIO Institute we studied the process from graphic and audiovisual material recorded in the hospital laboratory and considered it viable."
From 2008 both entities signed several R&D contracts to develop this idea and later the University applied for a national patent. Afterwards, the researchers created the spin-off company Nidoweb, which is located at the Science and Business Park of the MHU. The company is developing both the hardware and the software and has acquired the rights to exploit the patent. The console was designed at a company in Ibi. Finally, the multinational pharmaceutical company Merck became interested in the project and was granted exclusive rights to launch the product.
Merck will soon launch the simulator (TESTconsola+TESTicsi v1.0) although several reproduction centres are interested in acquiring it already. To protect the technology, the University has applied for the international PCT patent. "This first simulator covers the process of Sperm Microinjection, but we're considering designing other simulation applications related to other assisted reproduction techniques, both in humans and in animals, using our TESTconsola," said the Spanish researcher. More information: www.embryotraining.com
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