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Assisted hatching is a laboratory procedure that facilitates an embryo's release from the confines of its "egg shell," formally known as the zona pellucida. The zona pellucida is a secretion of carbohydrate and protein that forms around the egg during its development in the ovarian follicle. The zona continues to protect the embryo for several days after fertilization.
By the fifth to sixth day after fertilization, the embryo is 50-100 cells. It has also expanded in size, and strains at the confines of the zona pellucida. Escape from the zona pellucida, or “hatching”, is required in order for the embryo to implant in the uterus and establish a pregnancy. Usually, the embryo breaks through a weakened area of the zona on its own.
In some cases, hatching may be more difficult or impossible for the embryo due to various factors. Older patients and some with thick zonas may require assistance. In the laboratory, an opening is created in the zona pellucida to facilitate hatching. This opening is created by using a laser.
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