Embryologists vs Robots
Imagine in vitro fertilization could be fully automated in all its processes (sperm prep, denudation, IVF, ICSI, cryopreservation, biopsy, etc)? This will happen, and our company, Overture Life, is working towards this objective. This is a moral conundrum for me since I consider myself an embryologist / lab rat and many of my best friends are embryologists. So, let’s consider what could happen to my friends.
Let’s take the US since is where it makes more sense to automate due to IVF cost there. Currently, an average lab requires an embryologist per each 200 cycles (with a minimum of two embryologists). An average 1000 cycle laboratory costs about 2M in CAPEX (equipment, facility) investment, and runs on 6 embryologists. On the other hand, the cost of an IVF cycle in the US is 20K and only 200,000 people a year can afford it but there are 2M that want it. With full automation, CAPEX could be 200K and require a single person to do 1000 cycles. Would we lose 80% of embryology jobs? I don’t think so because price of IVF could be 1/5 of what it is now (You can already have IVF for US$4000 outside the US without automation) and demand could multiply by 5, thus employing as many embryologists as now. No more pipetting or injecting day after day. Maybe more free time to go back to doing embryology research? We are certainly hitting a plateau in IVF results. Every 1% gain in implantation is more and more difficult. If instead of the current variability between centers of 20-70% implantation in <35 years old women, we could have consistent just 60% implantation across labs, we could have a platform were to do much better and meaningful research.
Our goal at Overture Life is to democratize and widen access to IVF to more patients while reducing human error and variability of results, not to screw up embryologist. After doing this analysis, I will sleep better at night. But my friends you should not be complacent – the embryology job of the near future will either be a low paid job of feeding samples to a machine or a high pay job in research, programming the platform so it keeps improving, management (Lab director) and have plenty of social and communication skills. If you are sitting all day long just doing ICSI you better start retraining. Doctors and nurses, ditto.