IVF culture media: past, present and future

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The advances in the world of IVF during the last decades have been rapid and impressive and culture media play a major role in this success. Until the 1980s fertility centers made their media in house. Nowadays, there are numerous commercially available culture media that contain various components including nutrients, vitamins and growth factors. This review goes through the past, present and future of IVF culture media and explores their composition and quality assessment.


A computerized search was performed in PubMed regarding IVF culture media including results from 1929 until March 2014. Information was gathered from the websites of companies who market culture media, advertising material, instructions for use and certificates of analysis. The regulation regarding IVF media mainly in the European Union (EU) but also in non-European countries was explored.


The keyword ‘IVF culture media’ gave 923 results in PubMed and ‘embryo culture media’ 12 068 results dating from 1912 until March 2014, depicting the increased scientific activity in this field. The commercialization of IVF culture media has increased the standards bringing a great variety of options into clinical practice. However, it has led to reduced transparency and comparisons of brand names that do not facilitate the scientific dialogue. Furthermore, there is some evidence suggesting that suboptimal culture conditions could cause long-term reprogramming in the embryo as the periconception period is particularly susceptible to epigenetic alterations. IVF media are now classified as class III medical devices and only CE (Conformité Européene)-marked media should be used in the EU.


The CE marking of IVF culture media is a significant development in the field. However, the quality and efficiency of culture media should be monitored closely. Well-designed randomized controlled trials, large epidemiological studies and full transparency should be the next steps. Reliable, standardized models assessing multiple end-points and post-implantation development should replace the mouse embryo assay. Structured long-term follow-up of children conceived by assisted reproduction technologies and traceability are of paramount importance.

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