The newest method for in vitro fertilization (IVF) oocyte extraction was on display on Oct. 16 in Mitchell, South Dakota.
Located a few miles west of Mitchell, Rock Creek Embryonics, a satellite location for the Oregon-based livestock reproduction company Vytelle, had an open house to demonstrate its newest method of collecting reproductive cells. Students from Mitchell Technical Institute, local producers, and Vytelle’s Dr. Michael Bishop were on hand to demonstrate how it’s done.
The technique is called ovum pick-up (OPU) and is entirely designed around eliminating the use of the follicle stimulating hormone. Technicians on hand demonstrated the technique with just a monitor, an ultrasound and a needle. The OPU specialist maneuvers the needle through the cow’s vagina toward the outside of the ovary, where the oocyte reproductive cells are extracted through their follicles.
All of the extraction and cleaning of the oocytes happens on-sight by Vytelle technicians, and the fertilization process is done within 24 hours to ensure safe embryos.
But this technique didn’t originate in the U.S. Dr. Bishop, who is the director of strategy for Vytelle, has been on the front lines of IVF since the early 1990s. The technique originated in Brazil, where producers were working with much less than they do in the U.S., he said.
“They are working with the largest registered beef breed in the world,” he said. “They don’t have the ability to give shots and they don’t have (follicle stimulate hormones).”
Without the hormones and control over the herd as a whole, reproductive companies were forced to adapt. Out of that struggle came the ovum pick-up technique using ultrasounds to pinpoint the follicles for the technicians. Bishop loved the idea of stemming the use of horemones and lowering the U.S.’s dependence on chemicals to get things done.
Using stimulating hormones makes the follicles big enough to be considered “dominant.” Once large enough, the follicles would burst through the ovary and be collected in a normal flushing routine. With the new technique, Vytelle eliminates the need for the follicles to become large because they can see them when they are normal-sized.
“All (follicle stimulating hormone) really does is make the follicles bigger so we can see it,” Bishop said. “We train our technicians to see it and it’s really as simple as that.”
The technicians on hand at Rock Creek, Tyler Grussing and William Garcia, explained the process to the Mitchell Tech students while demonstrating how it worked on several cows in the chute. Garcia, who is considered an expert on the technique, is Vytelle’s OPU manager.
During the demonstration, Garcia said that because the technique never penetrates the ovary directly, they can actually extract oocytes at any time, even when the cow is pregnant.
“Because we aren’t giving them any hormones, we can extract the oocytes at any period,” he said. “If the cow is pregnant, in heat, or even bread already we can do it. Just bring the cow and we can extract all the eggs.”
Typically, the technique is best used every 15 days, due to the nature of cows producing follicles.
“We just recommend every 15 days so we can keep the same quantity of the follicles,” Garcia said.
Also on hand during the demonstration was Vytelle sales manager Jared Knock. Knock said that even though their process is more invasive than a normal fertilization cycle, it’s leagues safer than the conventional flushing technique simply because the needle isn’t as “explosive.”
“Basically what we’re doing is blowing up a balloon and slowly letting the air out through the opening,” he said. “Versus normally, there’d have to be enough fluid to burst through that wall after (the hormone) inflates the follicles.”
Rock Creek Embryonics owner Helen Geppert said it’s exciting to bring on a new process. Geppert and her husband, Kevin, have done standard flushing for over 20 years. When they were approached by Vytelle, it was a match right away, she said.
“Everyone was super positive and even got to talk with clients who used the process and it was all great,” she said.
She’s happy to report an uptick in healthier cows since they started using this process for IVF.
“We were just very excited to not use the medication to stimulate the cows,” she said.
In general, the OPU technique takes about 10 to 12 minutes per cow, Garcia said, which allows them to do about 35 cows per day under normal circumstances. Both Garcia and Bishop said OPU is on par with conventional flushing in almost every way, and there isn’t a drop-off in pregnancy rates.
“Plus, you save a bit of money not buying follicle stimulating hormone,” Bishop said.