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Hum Reprod. 2012 Jun;27(6):1581-9. doi: 10.1093/humrep/des040. Epub 2012 Mar 22.

The influence of patient and cohort parameters on the incidence and developmental potential of embryos with poor quality traits for use in human embryonic stem cell derivation.

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  • 1Department for Reproductive Medicine, Ghent University Hospital, De Pintelaan, Ghent, Belgium. thomas.oleary@ugent.be



Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are most commonly derived from the inner cell mass (ICM) of blastocyst stage embryos. While the majority of hESC lines originate from good-quality embryos donated after cryogenic storage, poor-quality embryos (PQEs) not suitable for clinical use have also been shown to generate hESC. This provides a newfound function for embryos that would otherwise be discarded following IVF or ICSI. Owing to their lack of clinical importance, however, data on the poorest embryos in a cohort go largely unreported in the literature. It is therefore of interest to better understand the availability of PQEs from IVF/ICSI cycles and to determine their ability to develop into blastocysts with good-quality ICMs for use in hESC derivation. In this study, we investigate the influence of patient parameters and embryo cohort on PQE incidence, blastocyst development, ICM quality and successful hESC derivation from donated PQEs.


PQEs from 736 patient cycles that did not meet our clinical criteria for transfer or cryopreservation were cultured until Day 6 of development and assessed for blastocyst formation and ICM quality. A subset of blastocysts with good-quality ICMs were then used for hESC derivation attempts. Anonymous patient data such as maternal age, embryo history and cohort parameters were then retrospectively compiled and analysed.


PQEs made up 46.8% of two pronucleate embryos created from IVF/ICSI. Including embryos with abnormal fertilization, a mean of 3.6 ± 2.8 embryos were donated per cycle with 32.6% developing to the blastocyst stage. Good-quality ICM were produced in 13.9% of PQEs cultured. Of good-quality ICM, 15.4% of those used in hESC derivation attempts resulted in a novel line. The PQEs that originated from older patients (>37 year) or from cycles that did not result in pregnancy had significantly diminished blastocyst development and ICM quality. Maternal age was also shown to further influence the ability of good-quality ICMs to generate hESC.


PQEs are an abundant source of embryos capable of developing to blastocysts with good-quality ICMs and subsequently generating novel hESC. We have shown that prognostic variables used to predict IVF/ICSI outcome can also help predict which PQEs have the best hESC developmental potential. Owing to the diversity of PQE origin, experiments designed to compare hESC derivation techniques or efficiency using PQEs should consider clinical IVF/ICSI parameters to establish groups with equal developmental competence. Additional investigation is needed to determine if these results are applicable to hESC derivation using good-quality embryos.

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