We spoke with Paloma Troncoso, embryologist in the OVO Group and head of Ovolearning – the education and learning platform of Ovoclinic, Ovobank and Ovohorse – offering courses and workshops in assisted reproduction and other laboratory techniques.
- April 15 is International Biomedical Laboratory Science Day, a date to bring awareness to this important sector. If you had to choose three words to sum up your years in the laboratory, what would they be and why?
Innovation. From when I started up to today, the laboratory has evolved exponentially. Every day, more techniques are created and others are perfected to achieve better results. Likewise, there are more and more reproductive problems that can be solved thanks to assisted reproduction.
Hope. Thanks to all the new techniques that have appeared, such as Ovarian Rejuvenation, in vitro maturation and ovarian tissue freezing, for example, the possibility has opened to solve problems that until now could not be treated. For sure, they are still experimental techniques without defined protocols, but it is probable that in the near future they will form part of the day to day in our laboratories.
Learning. Assisted reproduction is a world in continuous evolution in which every day you learn something new that has been investigated or new complementary techniques that you can implement in your clinic to improve upon the techniques you were using. Training is fundamental in our job and we never stop learning new things. As such, it is fundamental to be open to learning every day.
- Why did you decide to specialize in assisted reproduction?
The truth is that I chose to study biology so that I could specialize in assisted reproduction. I was always clear on that. I think that helping people to achieve their dreams of becoming parents is one of the best areas in which you can work. Investing my time in learning new techniques to improve results in assisted reproduction is something that makes me very happy.
- In the Ovolearning laboratories, the training and education platform of Ovoclinic and Ovobank, you perform all types of techniques. Which is the one that you feel is the most complex, but at the same time most interesting?
It is difficult to choose a technique, but I think without a doubt the genetic analysis of embryos is one of the most complex, whilst giving some of the maximum benefits, as it allows us to avoid the transfer of embryos that have the same genetic disease as their predecessors. It also means we can ensure, on a genetic level, that they have the correct number of chromosomes and therefore the patient does not have to go through a miscarriage or termination because of this cause.
- From your very first steps in the world of assisted reproduction until today, the methods and processes keep updating. For you, what is the process or protocol that has most surprised you in terms of development and research?
When I started to work, the technique of vitrification was already well established as much for eggs as for embryos. However, I have had to thaw cells that had been frozen using the slow freezing method and it is incredible how much protocols have improved and the results they achieve. Nowadays, the percentage of embryos and egg cells that survive is much higher than that of a few years ago.
This allows for fertility preservation by egg freezing, that is to say eggs that will be used a later date for fertilization to give create embryos. Thanks to this advance, we now transfer a smaller number of embryos, as it is possible to freeze the leftover ones with a good prognosis for future transfers.
- In the laboratory, as well as qualified personnel, are they any other fundamental factors such as temperature, environment, humidity etc. that influence the success of procedures? How do these factors influence the day to day of an embryologist?
Yes, of course, it is fundamental to control all of these criteria. It is very important to keep a register of the laboratory conditions, such as measuring the temperature frequently to corroborate that the conditions are adequate. In addition to all of the environmental parameters, you also have to monitor the culture medium, for example the pH level. The cleanliness of the laboratory and the sterilization of the materials we use is also a basic requirement.
On another level, although it is not widely known, embryologists have to comply with a series of rules to be able to enter an IVF laboratory. We cannot wear perfume, deodorants with fragrance, makeup, wash our uniforms with fabric conditioner…nothing that could make volatiles enter the laboratory.
- Last year, along with Ovoclinic’s medical staff you took in an interesting study “Application of single Universal warming protocol for vitrified donor oocytes: A prospective, multicenter study” presented at the annual ESHRE meeting (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology). What did this study consist of and how was it carried out?
It is a study which we performed in collaboration with other collaborating reproduction centers where we wanted to see if it was necessary to use the same brand of kits for the vitrification and thawing of oocytes. To do this, we froze the egg cells using one brand and then in each center they used kits of different brands for the thawing. The results we obtained showed that there were no significant differences in blastulation, b-hCG positive nor pregnancy rates and although when using the same kit we saw slightly higher survival rates, all survival rates were above 90%.
- The Ovolearning workshop and course programs are proving to be a success at a national and international level. What are the next challenges for Ovolearning?
At the moment we are improving and expanding the platform to be able to offer more personalized courses. We are participating in the University Specialist Master’s in Assisted Reproduction which is offered by the University of Almeria, where we give classes and also offer some of the students of this course the possibility of practical work experience in our facilities.
Additionally, we have courses in English every month, with different themes and laboratory techniques, with a focus on the practical side so that participants can learn ICSI, blastocyst biopsy, embryo vitrification… Furthermore, we give our expert tips to equip them for any difficulties that may present when performing the techniques in their own laboratories.
We are really pleased with the results we are getting, and people are coming from many different countries to attend, giving us great feedback about our courses.
We want to keep improving and expanding our program to be able to offer online courses in addition to the presential courses,
The teaching team we have today is exceptional. Professionals who have participated in talks and external courses with extensive experience in research.
Ultimately, it is a training and education platform that is expanding and growing, which aims to offer all specialists in the sector a wide variety of possibilities in terms of topics and training techniques, in the world of human, and animal, assisted reproduction.