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Assisted Hatching

The egg is surrounded by a shell called the zona pellucida [ additional information ]. After fertilization the embryo divides inside of this shell. In unassisted pregnancies, the growing embryo rests on the endometrial surface for three to four days before breaking out of the shell. If the embryo is unable to break out of the shell, it cannot make contact with the maternal endometrium and pregnancy cannot be established. As women age it is more difficult for the embryo to get out of this shell. Assisting this process along has been shown to increase fertility in women above 38-years-old. The procedure can only be done as a component of in vitro fertilization. This is a micro-operative procedure performed on embryos. Each embryo is grasped by a holding pipette and a portion of the zona pellucida is dissolved. This is usually done after three days of culture and prior to transfer.

Assisted hatching accelerates the interval to implantation after transfer. It has application for unexplained infertility and IVF failure. There is a natural process called zona hardening which occurs with a release of chemicals in the zona pellucida. This may occur abnormally in some people. It may also be triggered by freezing eggs or embryos.