IBEC researchers lead a European ATTRACT Project to develop a diagnostic device to improve embryo selection for in vitro fertilization procedures

HYLIGHT Project, coordinated by Samuel Ojosnegros from IBEC, was selected by the ATTRACT Phase 2, an initiative of the European Union to boost the transfer of deep technology with great potential to transfer from the laboratories to the society. The project was financed with 2M euros for 26 months and aims to develop a diagnostic device to select embryos based on their metabolic profiles and increase the success rates of in vitro fertilization techniques.

ATTRACT is an EU H2020 project that funds breakthrough technologies coming from fundamental research that provide added value for society. This unique initiative combines public European Commission funding with collaboration among industries and research organizations to help these technological advances arrive to the society through translation into scientific and market applications.

During ATTRACT Phase 1, 170 projects were financed, including the HYSPLANT project from Samuel Ojosnegros, head of the Bioengineering in Reproductive Health group at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), that developed a proof-of-concept device to select embryos based on their metabolic profiles.  Recently took place the kick-off meeting to present the ATTRACT Phase 2 projects. The 36 most promising projects out of the 170 from phase 1 were selected to continue their development and get closer to a commercial product. Among them, HYLIGHT, coordinated by IBEC, is one of the 18 projects in the R&D&I Thematic Call.

The HYLIGHT Project

HYLIGHT is the natural continuation of the project HYSPLANT granted at ATTRACT Phase 1 and will go some steps further towards the development of a device ready to be used in the clinic. The rationale behind the project is to help solving a problem that affects one out of seven couples in Europe, who experience infertility problems. They turn to in vitro fertilization techniques to overcome these difficulties and become parents, a path often hard and unsuccessful.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a complex and multi-step process whereby eggs removed from a women’s ovaries are fertilized with sperm in a laboratory setting. The fertilized egg, now an embryo, is transferred to the women’s uterus to grow and develop. Despite the technical advances developed in the last decades, the successful rate, that is, the number of initial transferred embryos leading to a live birth is relatively low (30%), and repeated unsuccessful IVF cycles imply a significant emotional and physical distress for women and couples, and a high economic cost.

“HYLIGHT project will develop a robust and easy to use technology to select, non-invasively, the embryos that are competent for implantation and development, increasing the success rate and reducing the so called “time to pregnancy””.

Samuel Ojosnegros, IBEC

Image of a control (two left panels) and a metabollically stressed embryo (two right panels).

This diagnostic device combines hyperspectral analysis with artificial intelligence, that will allow to classify embryos based on their metabolic profiles, taking advantage of the natural auto-fluorescence of key cellular compounds, such as NADH or FADH. The advantage of this new approach is that embryos are classified in a non-invasive way, minimizing damage.

In HYSPLANT project, researchers developed a Proof-of-Concept (PoC) device, in collaboration with DEXEUS, a pioneer IVF clinic in Barcelona.  The objective of HYLIGHT is now to thoroughly test this research prototype and transform it into a clinical prototype. To this aim, the actual project joins the expertise of M-Squared, a photonics and quantum technology company, with DEXEUS, that will ensure that this prototype fulfils all the clinic routines and demands. IBEC, in its role as coordinator, will centralize the development of the diagnostic device.

The condition to be an ATTRACT phase 2 project is to culminate with the creation of a spin off that will bring the scientific advances to the society. Regarding this point, a deep market analysis shows an interest from venture capital in the project and strongly supports the incorporation of a profitable spin-off for the commercialization of this new technology. Concretely, the project already has the support of Scranton BV, a venture capital that has successfully invested in the Bioengineering in Reproductive Health group in the past.

More information about ATTRACT here.