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GLOSSARY

Embryologist

An embryologist is a fertility scientist that helps create viable embryos in the lab using in vitro fertilization. Embryologists are tasked with managing eggs and sperm, creating embryos and monitoring them closely as they develop, and freezing eggs, sperm, and embryos.

What is an embryologist?

Embryologists are scientists who study the development of a fertilized egg. As specialists in this field, clinical embryologists work with patients undergoing in vitro fertilization to facilitate successful assisted reproduction. Specifically, they may prepare sperm samples, perform in vitro fertilization, inject sperm into eggs (known as ICSI), check for fertilization and select embryos to use, freeze and thaw eggs or embryos, and work with a doctor to collect eggs and implant embryos. They are also responsible for making sure a fertility lab  — typically a combination of embryology and andrology — follows all regulations and best-practice guidelines.

Training to become an embryologist

To become an embryologist, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree, typically in biology. Many embryologists also have a Masters or PhD in reproductive clinical science or biology, or may have a medical degree. In some cases, embryologists are trained on the job in an IVF lab. While embryologists can earn some certifications, such as from the American College of Embryology or the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the field of embryology is currently mostly unregulated in the US, so requirements may depend on your state or specific position.

In addition to practicing in a clinical setting such as a fertility lab, embryologists are often scientific researchers. Their studies typically involve eggs, sperm, embryos, pregnancy, and/or reproductive technology.

History of embryology

The development of embryos has been studied for thousands of years, including by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. However, it took until the late 1800s for deeper investigations to begin significantly advancing the science. The field was called “developmental biology” during the 1970s and 80s, and expanded from focusing on amphibians and insects to researching human embryos, including manipulating zygotes (fertilized eggs) to increase the chances of pregnancy.

Researchers during this era identified stages in the embryonic period that are still used today, and in 1978 a baby was born successfully after in vitro fertilization. The field advanced quickly over a little more than 130 years, and continues to evolve.

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