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Time-lapse imaging

Treatment add-on

Time-lapse imaging is rated amber

Time-lapse imaging is rated amber

Amber

What does this traffic light rating mean?

The traffic light rating system consists of three colours that indicate whether the evidence, in the form of high-quality randomised control trials (RCTs), shows that a treatment add-on can safely improve the live birth rate for someone undergoing fertility treatment.

We give an amber symbol for an add-on where there is conflicting evidence to show that an add-on can improve live birth rates, or that the add-on is safe for patients to use. This means that the evidence is not conclusive and further research is required, and the add-on should not be recommended for routine use.

What is time-lapse imaging?

In IVF, time-lapse imaging is used to help select the embryos most likely to develop into a baby.

In conventional IVF, the embryologist will check the developing embryos each day under a microscope, which involves removing them from the incubator for a brief period.  

Time-lapse imaging allows the embryologist to take thousands of images of the embryos as they grow without disturbing them. Not only does this mean the embryos do not have to be removed from the incubator, it also allows the embryologist to get a continuous view of each embryo as it develops, rather than just viewing them once a day.

The embryologist can then choose a specific embryo for implantation based on criteria such as rate of development and the number and appearance of cells.

Are there any risks?

No, there are no known risks to the woman or her embryos from time-lapse imaging.

What's the evidence for time-lapse imaging?

At the June 2018 Scientific and Clinical Advances Advisory Committee (SCAAC) meeting the Committee evaluated the evidence. Minutes of the June 2018 discussion and the evidence used to inform this discussion are available here.

There have been various studies to try and see if time-lapse imaging can improve birth rates. Initial research has shown some promise, but it’s still very early days.

Indeed, being undisturbed while they grow may improve the quality of the embryos but there’s certainly not enough evidence to show that time-lapse imaging improves your chance of having a baby, which is something you may want to consider if it’s being offered to you at an extra cost.

This Cochrane review has further information on the evidence for time-lapse imaging.

What are treatment add-ons?

Treatment add-ons are optional additional treatments that you may be offered on top of your routine fertility treatment, often at an additional cost. Some clinics may refer to treatments add-ons as ‘supplementary’ or ‘embryology treatments’. There are a wide range of treatment add-ons on offer including tests, drugs, equipment, holistic or alternative therapies, and surgical interventions.

However, all treatment add-ons share one common characteristic: they claim to improve the chances of having a baby (live birth rate). Evidence on whether some treatment add-ons are safe or effective is often missing or absent. These claims can attract a lot of attention with many patients opting for a treatment add-on thinking that it may be the best option for them despite there being little or no evidence to prove it is.

Treatment add-ons have varying levels of scientific evidence to support their effectiveness and safety and, at times, this evidence can be contradictory. It is important to keep in mind that for most patients, routine fertility treatment is an effective option on its own.

We aim to publish clear and reliable information about some of the treatment add-ons that lack sufficient evidence to show that they are effective and/or safe. This allows patients to make an informed decision about whether using a treatment add-on as part of their treatment is the best option for them.

To make it easier to understand the scientific evidence for each treatment add-on we have developed the HFEA’s traffic-light rated list of add-ons.

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Review date: 2 September 2022

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