Fertility treatment can be an emotional rollercoaster. We sat down with Lucy Buckley and Kobi McCardle, co-founders of the online platform Dr Fertility, to find out why we need to do more for those unable to conceive.
Depending on the area where you live in, getting fertility treatment following a GP referral can take any time between 21 weeks and two years. Despite such discrepancies, six out of every 10 IVF cycles are still funded privately.
“A lot of the time, these couples feel in limbo,” says Lucy Buckley, clinical pharmacist and co-founder of Dr Fertility, an online platform for personalised fertility support, tests and prescriptions.
“With so much misinformation, it’s easy to self-diagnose and jump to conclusions,” Buckley insists. “So, with our platform we wanted to show the importance of seeking support from the very beginning instead of waiting until you’re struggling.”
Her co-founder, Kobi McCardle, agrees. Although fertility declines with age, negative lifestyle and diet choices can also impact women’s chances of getting pregnant.
“Fertility support is more needed now than ever,” McCardle says. “When we look at the statistics, we can see that couples consider starting a family much later in their life and about 50 per cent of women born in the 1990s still don’t have children.
“So, we’re very focused on supporting people right from the start and ultimately, reducing the number of couples having to undergo IVF.”
The two founders think that this also comes down to education. Programmes like the Fertility Education Initiative (FEI), a special interest group of the British Fertility Society, aims to improve knowledge of reproductive health in young people who will likely know little about factors that could lead to infertility.
“We’re now seeing how younger generations are becoming much more proactive in terms of their health care and we’ve had couples in their early 30s who just wanted to make sure that everything was okay,” Buckley explains.
“But although we’re seeing this change in mindset, we need to do more in terms of fertility education. We’ve got some great educational content on our website and we really hope to help in that regard.”
Dr Fertility is regulated by the Care Quality Commission and offers medical and emotional support through the provision of accessible online advice, diagnostic testing, blood testing, treatment and coaching from home.
“We don’t just look at the medical elements,” Buckley adds. “We look at the couple’s emotional status, lifestyle and social situation and provide ongoing support.
“We are very passionate about helping people. Fertility is such an emotional topic and it’s that emotional support that matters the most.”
Although an increasing number of people go through fertility treatment, showing the value of talking to a fertility expert has not been easy for the two founders.
“That and finding the right people have proved more challenging than we thought,” McCardle adds. “In a digital health start-up like this, you’ve got people coming in from lots of different industries and with lots of different backgrounds, but now we’re happy to have a great team behind us.”
Along with improving the platform, the two founders hope to extend their services in the UK market and to provide further support for people throughout their fertility journey.
“Early intervention is extremely important,” says Buckley. “If there is an issue we want to know earlier on so we can do everything we can to support our patients.”
For more information, visit drfertility.co.uk.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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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