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How AI could revolutionise implantation prediction

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Fairtility’s Cristina Hickman tells us how AI could change the fertility world and what it would mean for thousands of aspiring parents. 

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is the most effective form of assisted reproductive technology. Due to the complexity of the procedure, however, prediction of embryonic implantation prior to IVF is key in decision-making.

The Israeli software company Fairtility aims to maximise IVF outcomes by using AI and computer vision algorithms to analyse morphological and morphokinetic features and provide early, data-driven embryo quality.

“It’s essentially an assistant that supports embryologists and gives them superpowers,” says Dr Cristina Hickman, researcher and embryologist. “Using computer science that highlights the things that we may have missed [in the embryo selection process] is a completely different way of practising biology compared to how we did it before.”

The AI-based system could, in fact, standardise the practice, she explains. “We want patients to get access to the best possible treatment all the time. Very often different embryologists look at different pieces of information. So, the tools that we use will have an impact both in terms of improving our ability to pick the correct embryo, but also in terms of enhancing consistency in practice.

“We already have a number of studies that we’ve done with several different clinics to show how embryologists assess the embryos and how the AI systems assess the embryos,” Hickman continues. “We’re not disagreeing with each other. We just make the whole process faster and consistent, so that over time, we can get to the point where we can bring more cycles per embryologist and make treatments more affordable.”

The other benefit of the algorithm would be a better understanding of the IVF success rates. According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), patients have rated the stress of undergoing IVF as more stressful than or almost as stressful as any other major life event, such as the death of a family member, separation or divorce. “Analysing the embryo would allow us to see any anomalies and see if it has a very low chance of becoming a healthy baby,” says Dr Hickman.

“Within a touch of a button, the embryologist has the ability to share information with the patients directly from the system. For example, they can see images, videos and even summary reports saying how many embryos are fertilised. Therefore, all patients can have this experience of transparency and they can see what the embryologist sees.

“They can also understand the risk of getting a negative result and they don’t have to go through that emotional roller coaster,” the researcher adds. “This means that the patients would be in a better emotional position to go back and do another cycle because they understood this journey a little bit better. Our aim overall is to bring less stress and more stability in this process.”

Dr Hickman argues that the management of expectations of patients is incredibly important in IVF and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. “Not everybody has the same chance of pregnancy and this personalisation in the way we deliver information is based on what we know about the embryo.

“Historically, we used to speak to two different patients in exactly the same way,” she says. “But we may have a patient who has a very high chance of pregnancy and one that has a very low chance of pregnancy and therefore, the latter is actually going to suffer more by receiving that super positive feedback.

“The transparency, I think, is crucial to that relationship between the facility professional and the patient. While it might seem harsh to provide the full information upfront, in my experience the patients feels more comforted and they trust us more.”

Hickman would like to see a future where the patient is entitled to receive all the information they need in order to decide how best to move forward.

“What we’ve seen up to now is the embryologist saying: ‘I will overlay what my needs are into patients and make my best guess of what’s best for them’. But that has to change and we need to get to the point where the patient is engaged and empowered, not taking a back seat,” she adds.

“That fluidity of information will give them more energy to be able to go through the entire journey, even through the disappointing aspects of it, because they’ve participated in the whole process. And this is very much the direction where Fairtility is going.”

For more information, visit fairtility.com

Sorina Mihaila is the Femtech World editor, covering technology, research and innovation in women's health. Sorina is also a contributor for the neuro-rehabilitation magazine NR Times.

Fertility

How we can address the gender imbalance in fertility testing

Everyone has heard of the female biological clock, but not many people know that male fertility declines throughout adulthood too

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Lily Elsner, co-founder and CEO of Jack Fertility

Although one in six couples globally have difficulty conceiving, infertility remains a woman’s social burden. We need to address male infertility, says Lily Elsner.

Infertility affects 186 million people worldwide and, despite everything society has led us to believe, one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues.

Male infertility can be caused by low sperm production, abnormal sperm function or blockages that prevent the delivery of sperm. Some men may also experience fertility issues due to chronic health problems, illnesses and lifestyle choices.

How come no one talks about it? To date, fertility has been firmly cast as a “woman’s issue”, irrespective of men being half of the fertility equation.

Everyone has heard of the female biological clock, but not many people realise that male fertility declines throughout adulthood too. Research shows that men will generally see a 52 per cent decrease in fertility rate between their early 30s and their mid-to-late 30s.

“Male infertility, although often treatable, is a very taboo subject,” says Lily Elsner, co-founder and CEO of Jack Fertility.

“Because men don’t have the same relationship with their physicians as women do, they often don’t know they could do something about it.”

Culturally, it can also be hard for men to talk about having trouble conceiving as this can be seen as a lack of masculinity.

Research shows that the majority of men (73 per cent) are unlikely to talk about their infertility with others. In fact, 39 per cent are not likely to talk about their infertility at all.

Elsner, however, thinks we can change that. As the woman behind Jack Fertility’s at-home sperm test kit, she thinks talking openly about male infertility could go a long way towards addressing the gender imbalance in fertility testing. 

“The whole point of femtech is to ensure women’s health is prioritised. By opening up the conversation around reproductive health and making it easy to assess male fertility, we can take some of the pressure off of women.

“Some men may not want to talk about their infertility still, but it’s an essential component of creating an equal world for all genders. I am tired of watching women shoulder the majority of infertility’s physical and emotional burden, and seeing men and non traditional families completely neglected in the medical and societal discourse surrounding fertility.”

A test like Jack, Elsner says, could give people that empowerment of having access to their health data and provide them with the tools to be able to make the right decision for them.

“A lot of men think of fertility as static, when really the male body is constantly creating sperm. With Jack, what we are trying to say is, ‘Actually, your fertility massively depends on your current health and chronic illnesses’.

“Our aim is to make it easy and convenient for all men to get reliable results about the status of their fertility, even if they are not considering starting a family. That’s part of why we named the company Jack – it’s cheeky and relatable.”

There are many fertility test on the market, but Elsner doesn’t see that as a bad thing.

“The rise of companies providing at-home sperm testing suggests a growing interest in male reproductive health, but it also signals a shift in attitudes, with fertility being recognised as an issue that affects both men and women equally,” she says.

“There are so many amazing companies out there working on fertility tests, but I think most of them are targeted a little bit further down the funnel. For us, it’s about getting men to take that first important step of getting tested. We just want them to have a chat with Jack.”

Jack Fertility is expected to launch later this year. To find out more, visit jackfertility.co.uk.

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Fertility

Partnership to pilot ‘cutting-edge’ embryo selection tool

The partnership is hoped to streamline laboratory operations with the potential future benefit of optimising the embryo selection process

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The US fertility technology company Alife Health has teamed up with a network of laboratories to pilot an AI technology for embryo image capture and cataloguing.

The company’s partnership with Ovation Fertility aims to focus on streamlining laboratory operations with the potential future benefit of optimising the embryo selection process.

The technology could enable future “AI-powered” embryo selection.

Alife’s Embryo Assist software promises to help embryologists to create digital records of every embryo, with the added benefit of using the start-up’s clinical decision support algorithm to determine the best embryo for transfer.

Paxton Maeder-York, founder and CEO of Alife, said: “We are thrilled to join forces with Ovation, a leading laboratory network in the country, to showcase the transformative impact of Alife’s technology.

“Through this partnership, we aim to demonstrate how Alife’s advanced technology, powered by AI, can not only optimise clinic workflow, but also set a new standard in the precision and consistency of embryo selection.

“We look forward to contributing to Ovation’s commitment to excellence in fertility care.”

Matthew VerMilyea, vice president of scientific advancement at Ovation, added: “At Ovation, we strive to discover and leverage the most state-of-the-art technologies available to us in order to better improve patient outcomes.

“The Alife Embryo Assist software provides our laboratories with a structured digital approach to a rather manual and cumbersome process.

“I believe that by implementing Alife’s technology, we will see an improvement in lab efficiency and performance, which ultimately will help our network provide the best possible outcomes for every individual hoping to grow their family.”

The Embryo Assist software claims to allow embryologists to capture images of each embryo and streamline the embryo reporting process by eliminating the need to manually transcribe information between systems.

Alife expects the tool to “elevate” laboratory quality-control measures by providing an activity and audit trail for every embryo, viewable in real time.

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Kitazato and IVF2.0 forge groundbreaking collaboration to revolutionise IVF with AI solutions

The collaboration aims to advance real-time sperm selection for intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and embryo ranking

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Kitazato, a trailblazing Japanese corporation specialising in assisted reproduction products, and IVF2.0, a leader in AI software for assisted reproductive technology (ART), have joined forces in a strategic collaboration.

The partnership aims to advance real-time sperm selection for intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), and embryo ranking based on ploidy prediction, ushering in a new era for the IVF market.

Under this agreement, Kitazato will leverage its multi-national distribution network to introduce standardised reproducible data-driven decision-making to IVF laboratories in many regions of the world through IVF2.0’s software.

IVF2.0’s suite of AI tools, including sperm selection (SiD) and embryo selection (ERiCA), assists embryologists in making critical choices to optimize fertility outcomes.

Mr Futoshi Inoue, president and CEO of Kitazato, expresses enthusiasm, stating: “Partnering with IVF2.0 demonstrates our commitment to innovation. We embrace technologies that aim to boost success rates, standardize procedures, and democratize fertility treatment for all.”

Professor Andrew Drakeley, co-founder and board chair of IVF2.0, emphasises the significance of the collaboration.

He said: “Our bond with Kitazato, a prestigious company with world-class products, underscores the growing need for implementing AI tools in IVF clinics globally. This marks a substantial step in the right direction.”

Kitazato, Kitazato – Quality Results for Life (kitazato-ivf.com), renowned for delivering quality products in assisted reproduction, aligns with IVF2.0’s mission to enhance IVF outcomes through AI.

IVF2.0’s innovative software platform employs AI and computer vision technology to elevate key steps in the IVF process.

Learn more at IVF 2.0 (ivf20.ai)

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