The scope of training programmes in bovine embryo transfer depends primarily on the background of the people to be trained and the extent of the training. Training can range from a one-day seminar to a two-year master's programme. At the present time, there are a number of training programmes ranging from one week to one month in length. Such programmes are usually sponsored by private companies, most of which have extensive experience in commercial bovine embryo transfer, and usually provide considerable “hands on” experience with collection and transfer of embryos with cattle. They are expensive, generally costing from US$1 000 to US$10 000 each, depending on the number of animals involved, the extent of personalized training, the length of the programme and whether room and board is included.
An alternative is to invite one or several experts to a particular site to carry out training. This is an effective approach if the right kinds and numbers of animals are available, and if appropriate supplies and equipment are provided.
Almost universally, a prerequisite for these training programmes is proficiency in artificial insemination with cattle. People accomplished in this area can usually make great progress in learning to recover embryos non-surgically within a week or two. Those without proficiency in artificial insemination waste a great deal of time becoming comfortable in manipulating instruments through the rectal wall. A veterinary or other advanced degree is also helpful for trainees, but is less useful in achieving technical proficiency than experience in artificial insemination.
Below is an outline of a training programme that has been successful for us at Colorado State University. This programme is suitable for training three to six students simultaneously. It requires one full-time plus one half-time instructor, and the trainees must provide considerable help. Depending on the number of students, the programme requires 25–40 head of cattle, which must be available for some weeks before training begins, and which will be unsuitable for other uses for one to two months afterwards.
Example of four-week training programme in embryo transfer
|Monday||Introduction, tour facilities, receive written information|
|Tuesday||Practice passing Foley catheters through slaughterhouse tracts, demonstration of non-surgical recovery|
|Wednesday||Practice non-surgical recovery in cull cows, study slides of embryos, lecture on oestrus detection|
|Thursday||Ultrasound demonstration, lecture on ultrasonography, superovulation and programming donors|
|Friday||Practice non-surgical recovery on superovulated cows, manipulate and evaluate embryos, lecture on preparation of drugs and making up media|
|Monday||Practice non-surgical recovery, study embryos, lecture on microscopes|
|Tuesday||Practice ultrasonography, practice loading straws, lecture on cryopreservation principles and procedures, practicum in making up media|
|Wednesday||Practice non-surgical recovery, study embryos, freeze embryos|
|Thursday||Lecture on washing and sterilizing, make glass pipettes, wash dishes|
|Friday||Further lectures on cryopreservation, thaw and study frozen embryos, transfer frozen embryos|
|Monday||Non-surgical recovery of transferred embryos, study and retransfer embryos|
|Tuesday||Practice non-surgical recovery, freeze and transfer embryos|
|Wednesday||Help with in vitro fertilization experiments, lecture on in vitro fertilization|
|Thursday||Lecture on purchase of equipment; afternoon off|
|Friday||Recover transferred embryos from recipients, lecture on micro-surgery and sexing|
|Monday||Non-surgical recovery, lecture on pure water and avoiding toxins|
|Tuesday||Thaw and evaluate embryos, transfer them|
|Wednesday||Help with in vitro fertilization experiment, lecture on ordering supplies|
|Thursday||Recover transferred embryos, lecture on genetics and success rates|
|Daily||Help with injections, insemination, oestrus detection, and clean up, read and study extensive written material provided|
Note: Each time cattle are used, students practice palpation, ultrasonography, epidural anaesthesia; each time embryos are available, students evaluate them, manipulate them, etc.
Upon completion of such a course, a student will not be competent in all areas of embryo transfer, but will be in a position to become competent with sufficient practice. Differing backgrounds and innate abilities make the concept “sufficient practice” hard to quantify. One set of arbitrary objective measures is used by the Canadian Embryo Transfer Society in screening practitioners for admission to its certification examination: the candidate must have superovulated and flushed at least 50 donors, have transferred at least 200 embryos, and have maintained a pregnancy rate of 50 percent or better during the year before making application. Another estimate is that one to three months' practice is required to master each step. Even after a student has become proficient, constant practice and attention to detail are required.