We recently got a chance to sit down with Alex Sheiko, one of the most prominent embryologists in the state of Texas. He talks about everything from being a pioneer in Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) in Houston, designing some of his own equipment, and becoming a U.S. citizen.
•How did you get started in embryology? In my native Russia, I was a scientist designing medical devices, but when the Soviet Union collapsed, I followed my wife, who was a microbiologist, to the U.S., and got a job in the Urology lab at Baylor College of Medicine.
•What was your first job in embryology? I was trained as an andrologist, but ICSI had just come to market & I learned it. At the time, it consisted of working on small, complicated, mechanical devices (manipulators), unlike today where they are electrical, and I had that experience. After I started with Houston IVF, I learned several protocols from Colorado, and eventually started going there more regularly.
•What is ICSI? ICSI is a micromanipulation technique that helps achieve fertilization for couples with severe male factor infertility or couples who have had failure to fertilize in a previous in vitro fertilization attempt. ICSI overcomes many of the normal fertilization barriers and allows couples with poor diagnosis for achieving successful pregnancy to obtain fertilized embryos.
•What is the role of the embryologist in an IVF cycle and why is it important? Once the eggs are retrieved, we control the environment, temperature, media, CO2 level, oxygen, we trim, assess maturity, holding them until they fertilize, then select the best embryos. Our role is like Super Nanny for the embryos.
•Describe your early ICSI cases? Once I’d learned how to do ICSI, I was doing ICSI for Baylor, OGA, and McGregor Center for Reproduction. I designed suitcase, and put my micromanipulator in it, I traveled across those clinics and would do about six ICSI cases per day. It was tough, but the engineering and research.
•When and how did you come to Houston IVF? I worked for Dr. McNichols in 2000 at McGregor Center for Reproduction, then I found out several physicians around the country who were interested in the field including Dr. Schoolcraft. I eventually met Dr. Hickman, who was looking for an embryologist. I interviewed with him, and he hired me. This December will be nine years.
•What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the field of embryology since you started? During the early days, 50% fertilization rate was considered a big success, where now 70-80% is routine. Also, we buy our pipettes today, but back then, I had to make my own, and it was an R&D project in itself. Media is also a big change, as we made our own media, and it took a lot of time to do quality control in order to check consistency
•What do you like about the field? I enjoy working with my colleagues. They are very knowledgeable, cooperative, and supportive. It’s good to work for a well known clinic.
•How do you continue learning given the changes in the profession? We are constantly updating our protocols based on research and review. At least once a year we attend and present at conferences.