Q&A with STL Fertility Embryologist, Sarah Huffman
The embryology lab in every fertility center in the US is where the magic happens, literally. Even your doctors will agree. The scientists that work in this space, called embryologists, are at the forefront of reproductive medicine and helping those trying to get pregnant find success especially when it comes to IVF.
At STL Fertility, one of the many heroes of our embryology lab is Sarah Huffman. We took a few minutes out of Sarah’s busy day of ICSI and embryo thaws to sit down with her to get a glimpse at what makes her tick. From her initial entry into embryology to her favorite movie, read on to learn more about one of our resident miracle workers!
Q. How did you get into reproductive medicine?
It was a fortunate stroke of serendipity! I had done some lab research as a Biology undergrad student as well as work in a pathology lab, but after graduating I was looking for a full-time position at the University of Missouri in Columbia where I lived. I was offered positions in both a soybean research lab, and in a mouse embryo research lab, and I took the one that seemed more interesting. It was there that I began working with embryos and really enjoyed the work.
While doing that animal embryology work, in my personal life my husband and I were trying to get pregnant for over a year, and unfortunately, it wasn’t happening. We were incredibly fortunate that it only took a couple of rounds of Clomid to have our first child. But from that experience, I knew how that someday I wanted to get into the field of human reproductive medicine and use the skills I had honed in the animal embryology labs to help people directly. I worked with animal embryos for over 10 years before I came here to STL Fertility, and I know all the experience I gained has helped me in the work that I do here.
Q. How long have you been working as an embryologist in St. Louis?
Since August 2018, or so. I love being part of the STL Fertility team!
Q. How important have advancements in the IVF lab been to success rates?
Super important. As new research comes out and there is widespread adoption of new technology and protocols, success rates trend higher for everyone. For example, human embryos used to be frozen using a slow-freezing process, now we use vitrification which has higher embryo survival rates. I love learning new lab techniques that will help our patients, and I’m excited about the next advancements!
Q. What’s next in the IVF lab?
More Artificial Intelligence. We are already seeing AI being used in genetic testing and with the software used to evaluate embryos in timelapse incubators to help embryologists assess embryos, and I think we will see even more in the future. I think one day that AI will be able to grade embryo morphology quicker and with even greater consistency than our human eyes looking at the embryos under a microscope.
Q. Do you get a lot of questions from patients?
Not as many as you might think. I am always happy to discuss all things embryology with our patients! Usually, the contact I have with patients is when they have specific questions about their embryo grades that they want to discuss with me, or if they need information about shipping their embryos to long-term storage, donation, or disposal.
Q. What would you say to a friend unhappy with their current fertility care experience?
Please seek another opinion. Or more than that! Find a doctor and a practice that you feel understands you and makes you feel comfortable and especially where you feel your concerns are heard and addressed quickly and completely. No one should ever have to feel like their needs aren’t being met when they are already going through such a complex and difficult process as fertility treatment.
Q. If you weren’t an embryologist at STL Fertility what else would you be doing?
I don’t know. I really enjoy working with embryos and using micromanipulators on a microscope, so I’d likely be working at an animal transgenic core at a university helping create research animal models.
Q. Any favorite books, movies, or music you enjoy when you’re not doing ICSI?
Favorite movie: Princess Bride. Favorite book: a young adult fantasy series I’ve loved since I was a kid actually, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede that I’ve probably re-read at least 20 times. Favorite band: Cake, followed closely by Death Cab for Cutie. I am most definitely a lover of all things sci-fi and fantasy.
Q. What do you love about living in St. Louis?
There’s so much to do, so much good food to try, and everything is relatively close, or only a short drive away. I was born and raised in Columbia, MO. In a smaller town like that, we had to make our own fun. I am excited to raise my two kids here where there are so many fun and interesting experiences to do with them.