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Order in the Lab! Taking Care of Sperm, Eggs, and Embryos

Very few people really know what an embryologist does. A typical day begins around 7 a.m., with my having changed into my scrubs. In the lab, I turn all the equipment on and run the equipment QC (quality control), which ensures that everything has the proper gas and temperature levels.

If we’ve done egg retrievals the day before, I check for fertilization (move the eggs/embryos into the isolette, clean them off with a small pipette, and place them into fresh culture dishes).

After the fertility check is done, I report to the doctors and we decide how many embryos to freeze—or eggs to treat with Day 2 ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). The rest of the day depends on the specific patient needs for the day. Embryos could be thawed for transfer, or fresh embryos could be prepared (graded and photographed) for a fresh embryo transfer.

I guess I basically don’t have a typical day. I feel like I’m constantly thinking about what’s best at any given moment for the embryos I’m handling on behalf of a particular patient.

I fit research and study in when I can—usually in the afternoon. In the little free time I have left, I do special projects. Right now I’m reviewing 48 scientific abstracts for the Pacific Coast Reproductive Society, of whose upcoming annual meeting I am co-program chair.

One question I often get is “How do you make sure things don’t get mixed up in the lab?”

The answer is: a sophisticated coding system linking eggs, embryos, sperm, and patients. From unique color codes and personal shelving to engraved dishes and a numerical system, we’ve got it under control.

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