Due to the nature of our medium and its inherit ability to visually freeze specific moments, it’s not a wonder photography has immense value in historical record keeping, and that value often keeps it right in the thick of drama and debate. Images used in court cases, are just a minuscule example, if not the obvious example, of that. Then, of course, there’s the artistic and emotional value it brings, which is what perhaps, it’s most notable for.
There’s also, however, an enormous value to science that photography brings. From the ability to visually study cases, all the way up to electron microscopy used to strengthen our understanding of structural biology. It seems now, and already argued by some of a more Bible-Belt persuasion, that photographic timelapses are helping doctors ‘play God.’
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An Embryoscope is a relatively new technological incarnation, developed and used to drastically improve the success rate of in-vitro fertilization – and it does this via time-lapse photography. In Vitro (IVF), at its most simplified level of explanation, is the process whereby an egg is fertilized in a liquid medium outside the body. Primarily a treatment for infertility, it does require constant monitoring and manipulation of the whole ovulatory process before, and after, there is a zygote. As the process does have a failure rate to contend with, numerous eggs are usually fertilized at once, and then as the embryos develop, the best of the lot is chosen. You can see already where the ethical arguments begin to mount.
It is in fact the time of monitoring, before the right embryo is decided upon, where the Embryoscope and time lapses it produces comes into play. Prior to its development, the embryos would need to be removed from their hermetically sealed, contaminant free incubators, to be monitored and assessed. This can have dire consequences for the procedure as it ups the exposure to the elements, and to a far less controlled environment where temperature changes and pathogens may reside, and affect the fragile embryos. The Embryoscope renders this practice useless, as it takes photos at an interval set by the team (10 minutes), and essentially gives the medical team a close to real time look at the development.
Managing Director of CARE Fertility in England, Dr. Simon Fishel, was responsible for the first successful IVF baby in the late 70s, and is featured by CNN in the following video where he discusses his thoughts on the machine.
We have much, much more information on which to base the crucial decision as to which embryo is the one to transfer back to the patient.
The machine has been attributed with a 20% increase in success rates of IVF, which makes the process more cost effective, less daunting, and may even give a peek into other developmental stages earlier than before. Whatever your feelings are on where it sits between right and wrong, it’s still interesting to see how many applications photography has.