Understanding the Role of an Embryologist

An embryologist is a scientist that works with sperm, eggs, and embryos. This field work is known as embryology. Embryologists can work in human or animal embryology. Animal embryologist can help with breeding programmes for a zoo, repopulation of endangered species, and breeding of livestock. Human embryologists work with infertility programmes with goal of helping couples have a baby.

The embryologist plays vital role in the journey to pregnancy for a couple struggling with infertility. During the course of infertility treatments, she/he will be involved from the start to finish of an IVF cycle.

Chew Fang Nang

Head of IVF/Chief Embryologist

As the Chief Embryologist of NewLife@PHKL, Chew Fang leads an experienced embryology team that provides technological backbone for patients to progress from preliminary testing to egg retrieval, fertilization, and embryo transfer. The embryology lab is also the vital link to other infertility services such as pre-implantation, genetic screening and diagnosis, gender selection, and oocyte cryopreservation.

Chew Fang holds a Masters of Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction and Embryology from prestigious University of Valencia in Spain, and bachelor degree in Biomedical Science from University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). Like many embryologists she gained her initial experience in animal laboratories at UKM after her graduation as a Research Assistant in a Sperm Science Group. It was during this period she developed her interest in IVF and Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) techniques. Her ICSI experience of handling small animal eggs proved to be an enormous asset in her later future role. Her focus began to shift to IVF in humans. “It got me thinking about how I could develop my skills to help people who wanted children and couldn’t have them” she says, “I thought, this is what I have to do. I knew I could be part of an area of medicine that was just emerging”.

To expand her knowledge of her chosen field, she embarked and obtained a Certificate in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) from the Embryology Academy for Research & Training (EART) in India which is a CRM (Centre for Reproductive Medicine – Cleveland Clinic, US) and accredited course.

Chew Fang believes that to remain innovative and to continue to advance the overall team, it is necessary to develop knowledge and techniques in the ever-evolving fields of assisted reproduction. She has pursued many international programmes that cover numerous fields in the diagnosis and treatment of infertility from various perspectives, these include Repro-Support Medical Research Centre at Japan, ACE (Association of Clinical Embryologist) Biennial Conference at United Kingdom, clinical attachment at reputed fertility centre such as Fertility Center Hamburg at Germany, Chiang Mai University at Thailand and many more.

Assuming the position of Chief Embryologist at Newlife@PHKL in 2011, Chew Fang led the effort to expand and improve the Centre’s services. She was part of the era that introduced and embraced new techniques to the Centre. Some of her major projects were:

  • As one of the first proponents to implement 100% blastocyst culture/transfer. Before the implementation, almost all embryos were transferred at two to three days after fertilization which is also known as cleavage stage embryo.
  • Introduction of the all-ICSI practise which has fertilization rates of consistently above 70% assessed on a monthly basis.
  • Implemented the technique of ultra -rapid freezing called vitrification for embryo of different stages which has a proven higher survival rate post-thaw compared to the slow freezing technique practised earlier.
  • Multiple pregnancy is the biggest health risk associated with fertility treatment apart from OHSS (Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome). However, it is a risk that can be avoided. In the absence of any national policy, and their concern for the safety of both mother and baby’s health, Chew Fang and Dr Adilah were instrumental in setting up the policy of elective single embryo transfer (eSET) in NewLife@PHKL. This policy restricts on the number of embryos to be placed during fresh and frozen embryo transfer. eSET is recommended in younger women, which require a high quality blastocyst to effectively minimize multiple births from fertility treatment.
Chew Fang believes in fostering a culture of excellence through investment in the latest technology to improve a patient’s care. She encourages her team to continuous innovation, constant self-monitoring of own performance which would enable the team to make immediate adaptation and improvement to any level.

One of Chew Fang’s favourite pursuits is travelling. She quotes Miriam Beard’s “Travel is more than seeing of sights, it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent ideas of living” as an inspiration for her travels to many countries. It exposes her to different perspectives, experience, history, culture, and ultimately a better self.

Nor Farizah Abdul Hamid and Tham Yu Chou

Embryologist

The team at Newlife@PHKL is supported by two more embryologists, namely embryologist Nor Farizah Abdul Hamid and associate embryologist Tham Yu Chou.

Both embryologists received specialised training in IVF laboratory skills at The Centre for Reproductive Education & Specialist Training (CREST) Vietnam, An Sinh Hospital, Vietnam.

Like Chew Fang, Nor Farizah too had background with animal IVF/ICSI and has maintained similar ICSI fertilization rates. Her special interest is in cryopreservation techniques. On the other hand, Tham Yu Chou had background on andrology with special interest in Sperm Cryopreservation.