Connect with us


Meet the California start-up reimagining prenatal screening

Biotech start-up Juno Diagnostics is poised to support women through every step of the pregnancy journey



Juno Diagnostics co-founder and chief medical officer, Dr Mathias Ehrich, and director of genetic counselling, Katie Sagaser

Born out of a need to address the problems within the US prenatal healthcare system, Juno Diagnostics is on a mission to shake up the landscape of traditional prenatal care. We speak to co-founder and chief medical officer, Dr Mathias Ehrich, and director of genetic counselling, Katie Sagaser, to find out more.

Tell us a bit more about the story behind Juno.

Mathias Ehrich: Our aim has always been to create equitable access to high-quality prenatal care. We want all women to have the opportunity to learn about their pregnancy and feel empowered to make informed decisions.

In launching the world’s first capillary-based cfDNA non-invasive prenatal screening test, we looked to create an affordable test that met our goals of accessibility and transparency.

So in 2011, the Juno co-founders and I were working together at a life sciences company to pioneer the development and commercialisation of the first cell-free DNA-based non-invasive prenatal screen (NIPS) in the United States.

There, we drove a lot of innovation in pregnancy care and prenatal care up until the company was acquired in 2016. At the time, only about 800,000 women had true access to NIPS.

So when we looked at the problem again, we found a couple of things in the market that were not working. 

First of all, most NIPS tests were too expensive, and second of all, they were difficult to access. In almost 50 percent of all US counties, women don’t even have access to an OB/GYN, let alone a phlebotomy service.

So women really had a problem with getting access to NIPS technology.

That’s when we realised that we needed to develop something that we could send in the mail and that could be shipped in a box, in a cheaper and a lot more accessible way. We needed to meet women where they are.

Katie Sagaser: From my experience as a genetic counsellor, I was able to see the ways in which a new type of test is introduced, especially in the genetic testing world.

There’s a lot of ‘healthy fear’ at first, but sometimes that ends up paralysing patients in a way that if we, as folks in industry, don’t equip them with the right resources, it prevents them from being able to utilise technology that can be extremely empowering, in this case, for their pregnancy.

NIPS is not novel anymore. Yet, there are still OB-GYN providers out there who are reticent to incorporate it into their routine screening programmes for whatever reasons.

So one of the things that we have really wanted to do at Juno is work together with our providers, colleagues and partners, to try to equip them with the resources that they need to help their patients get the information that’s right for them and to ultimately, make an informed decision.

How does your approach help women access pre-natal screening tests at home?

KS: We’ve designed an extremely personalised approach because we really want to be meeting people right where they are.

At present, for the non-invasive prenatal screening test, there are two different pathways that people can follow.

They can either request the test themselves and a physician will review the order request and approve it, or their provider can order the test for them.

Once the order is placed, the patient is prompted to set up a Zoom call for a sample collection. This is going to be the same whether they’re doing the non-invasive prenatal screening test or the foetal gender test.

After the actual sample collection, patients are equipped with everything they need to return the kits. They just have to send them to the lab.

After we analyse the sample, they can access their results in their myJuno account.

What’s really unique is that our platform keeps them informed every step of the way, similar to how they might be used to tracking an order.

ME: We always wanted to empower women and encourage them to do things at their own pace. They have all the information they need on the platform and if something isn’t clear, they can get in touch with a genetic counsellor at any time of the process.

However, the platform is not a replacement for their OB-GYN provider. It’s something that’s intended to complement those services and make everybody’s life easier.

A lot of people were introduced to at-home testing during the pandemic. Do you think Covid has changed the way people view digital health?

KS: I think that prior to 2020, especially in the genetic counselling space, the whole concept of telemedicine was still intriguing. Covid has definitely changed that.

However, I think there are still challenges in the United States pertaining to our maternal health crisis and our OB-GYN access that telehealth on its own is not going to instantly fix.

ME: I think the pandemic did bring about a pretty big shift in the minds of the providers and they started to become more open to things like telehealth and taking care of patients remotely.

You’ve launched three products in 2022. What feedback have you received so far?

KS: The feedback has been exceptionally positive. I have been helping out with some of the Zoom calls on the collection side and people really appreciate the kind of support that we offer.

First of all, they like the fact that they’re talking with a real person in real time, but they also like that when they have questions, they don’t feel like a burden, and they can seek help and express their concerns.

Currently, the tests are only available in the US. Are you considering expanding your services globally?

ME: We’re extremely proud of all the work that we did in 2022. Yes, as we continue to grow, we’re considering expanding beyond the US when the time is right and in a way that is most appropriate.

It’s not Europe! I think Europe will be on our list at some point as well, but it is a little bit more difficult since most European countries have very particular healthcare systems to navigate. We promise it’s something exciting, though!

For more info, visit


FDA clears “innovative” maternal and foetal monitoring device

The device measures the electrical activity of the body and extracts maternal and foetal heart rate via cloud-based processing



The US FDA has granted clearance to a maternal and foetal monitoring device capable of measuring the electrical activity of the body.

The product, developed by the California-based maternal health company Bloomlife, is a prescription-based wearable device that aims to help healthcare providers measure maternal and foetal heart rate.

The device measures the electrical activity of the body and extracts maternal and foetal heart rate via cloud-based processing.

“Our pioneering consumer pregnancy tracker proved that women want access to more information during a pivotal time of her life,” said Eric Dy, co-founder and CEO of Bloomlife.

“The FDA clearance of Bloomlife MFM-Pro marks an important milestone by cementing our transition from consumer to medical markets.”

Earlier this year the WHO published its latest Trends in Maternal Mortality 2000 to 2020, which showed globally that in 2020 a woman died every two minutes due to pregnancy or childbirth complications. These trends are not limited to the developing world.

Before, during and after childbirth, women in the US are dying at a higher rate from pregnancy-related causes than in any other developed nation.

Increasing rates of high risk pregnancies demand greater clinical support, while decades long shortages of maternal health providers create barriers to care affecting urban and rural communities alike.

Bloomlife says it believes there is a role for technology to play in addressing this global maternal health crisis. The company aims to use technology to shift care from clinical settings to the home to deliver low-cost, “evidence-based” care.

“Covid revealed a significant amount of maternal care can be done outside of clinical settings. However, there remains a need to augment basic telehealth appointments with objective physiological data,” Dy explained.

“Utilisation of connected care solutions can not only increase the quality of virtual appointments, but allow us to build a more efficient, equitable and scalable means of screening and managing the health of mum and baby.”

To receive the Femtech World newsletter, sign up here.

Continue Reading


AI technology could detect pregnancy-related heart disease

A digital stethoscope has been shown to identify twice as many cases of peripartum cardiomyopathy as compared to regular care



An AI-enabled digital stethoscope could detect pregnancy-related heart disease, new research has shown.

The study, conducted by Mayo Clinic, has found that an AI-enabled digital stethoscope could improve the diagnosis of peripartum cardiomyopathy, a potentially life-threatening and treatable condition that weakens the heart muscle of women during pregnancy or in the months after giving birth.

Researchers used the AI-enabled digital stethoscope that captures electrocardiogram (EKG) data and heart sounds to identify twice as many cases of peripartum cardiomyopathy as compared to regular care.

“We demonstrated for the first time in an obstetric population that AI-guided screening using a digital stethoscope improved the diagnosis of this potentially life-threatening and treatable condition,” explained lead study author Demilade A. Adedinsewo, an assistant professor of medicine in the department of cardiovascular medicine at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

“This research can change current clinical practice from one that is reactive and symptom-driven to a more proactive approach of identifying pregnancy-related cardiac dysfunction using a simple, low-cost and effective screening tool.

“Earlier diagnosis would facilitate prompt and appropriate management of cardiomyopathy and reduce associated disease and death.”

Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a type of heart failure that can affect women late in pregnancy or after pregnancy. The disease weakens the heart, resulting in a decrease in the amount of blood that is pumped from the heart to other parts of the body.

It is typically diagnosed towards the end of pregnancy or in the months following and may be difficult for health professionals to detect because many of the symptoms are similar to those seen with normal pregnancy, such as shortness of breath and swelling in the feet and legs, according to the American Heart Association.

The rate of peripartum cardiomyopathy is somewhat low in the US, affecting one in every 1,000 to 4,000 pregnancies. However, it is more prevalent in countries like Nigeria, which has the highest reported incidence of peripartum cardiomyopathy worldwide, with it impacting as many as one in 96 pregnancies.

As part of the study, researchers from Mayo Clinic looked at almost 1,200 Nigerian women who were pregnant or had recently had a baby.

Approximately half were evaluated with AI-guided screening using the digital stethoscope and half received usual obstetric care in addition to a clinical EKG. Peripartum cardiomyopathy was detected twice as often among study participants when EKG testing was performed with a digital stethoscope using an AI algorithm, compared to clinical EKG in addition to routine obstetric care.

Overall, four per cent of the pregnant and postpartum women in the intervention arm of the clinical trial had cardiomyopathy compared to two per cent in the control arm, suggesting that half are likely undetected with usual care.

“While we expected AI-guided screening to improve the diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, we did not anticipate the frequency of cardiomyopathy diagnosis would be doubled,” Adedinsewo said.

She added: “Additional large trials enrolling a diverse group of women in other geographic locations are needed to evaluate the impact of AI-guided screening on cardiomyopathy diagnosis as well as its impact on adverse maternal outcomes.”

Continue Reading


From OB/GYN to entrepreneur: the Kenyan doctor rethinking maternal health

Maternal and newborn deaths are still a major public health problem in Kenya



Dr Lorraine Muluka, OB-GYN and founder of Malaica

Kenya has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. In 2020, the maternal mortality ratio in the East African country was 530 deaths per 100,000 live births – much higher than the global average of 223 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The ratio of babies who die in the first month of life is also higher than the global average.

However, as Dr Lorraine Muluka, a Nairobi-based OB-GYN and founder of the health tech start-up Malaica, has found out, most of these deaths can be prevented if women have access to safe and affordable maternal health services.

Here, the consultant-turned-entrepreneur tells us why she thinks innovation will prove to be essential in bridging the health gaps in the Kenyan healthcare system.

Hi Lorraine, could you tell us a bit more about your background?

My name is Dr Lorraine Muluka and I am an OB-GYN. I am also the co-founder and CEO of Malaica, a health tech start-up that focuses on maternal health in Kenya. I hold a master’s degree in medicine in obstetrics and gynaecology from the University of Nairobi and have worked in various private and mission hospitals in Kenya’s maternal healthcare sector.

Over the past decade, I have been involved in several healthcare start-ups, driven by my passion for innovating and improving the Kenyan healthcare system. I have also been practising as a consultant obstetrician at my private practice in Nairobi. In 2021, I decided to fully commit to my vision of improving maternal health in Kenya by co-founding Malaica.

What inspired you to create Malaica?

The birth of Malaica was driven by a shared passion by the co-founders for safe motherhood and an aspiration to transform the narrative of maternal and neonatal mortality ratios in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Personally, as an OB-GYN several times it was very frustrating seeing mothers lose their lives to preventable causes. A need to fix the gaps and delays in maternal healthcare that lead to poor pregnancy outcomes is at the core of Malaica and the inspiration behind its creation.

The delays women experience begin with a woman’s decision to seek care, extend to her access to the appropriate healthcare facility and also the quality of care she receives once there. These gaps result from the various challenges women face which include limited access to quality care, lack of continuous support and high healthcare costs among others.

By recognising and addressing these gaps, Malaica aims to provide a holistic, affordable, and supportive environment for expectant mothers, ultimately improving maternal and neonatal health outcomes.

How would you describe Malaica in a few words?

Malaica provides a dedicated online support team for expectant mothers, making the journey of pregnancy happier, more affordable, and safer. With Malaica by their side, expectant mothers can rely on the invaluable companionship and guidance they need throughout their pregnancy.

What makes Malaica different?

Malaica offers a unique approach to pregnancy support that focuses on the holistic wellbeing of expectant mothers, including physical health, mental wellness, and delivery readiness. Our online platform offers personalised care for each woman at an affordable cost, with a personal nurse midwife assigned to provide support throughout pregnancy.

We provide access to obstetricians/gynaecologists, educational content, and a nurturing online community moderated by supamums for peer support. In Nairobi, we offer both virtual and in-person ANC clinics and birth preparation classes.

What sets us apart is our unwavering empathy, creating a warm and supportive environment for expectant mothers. Malaica adapts to evolving needs, making us the ideal choice for pregnancy support.

Women’s health comes with a lot of stigma. How has this impacted you as a founder?

In all my years of practising medicine, especially in obstetrics and gynaecology, I have noticed that there is a lot of stigma surrounding women’s health, especially during pregnancy. This stigma can take many forms, from societal taboos to misunderstandings about women’s health issues. Sometimes, it’s challenging to remove these barriers and create an open and supportive environment where soon-to-be mothers can access the care and assistance they need.

However, this awareness of the problem has become a powerful motivation for me. It has encouraged me to work even harder to break down these obstacles and create a safe space where women can receive the care and support, they require without being judged. It has reinforced Malaica’s commitment to empathy and understanding, ensuring that we remain a platform that is free from stigma, where mothers-to-be can access the care and guidance they need with dignity and respect.

What obstacles have you encountered on this journey?

As pioneers in the industry, we face a unique set of challenges as a remote company. One of our main challenges is proving to potential clients that our services are genuine and essential. We also strive to provide high-quality care while managing costs, which can be difficult for affordable programs like Malaica’s.

Providing physical services in remote or underserved areas poses a logistical challenge, especially considering the competitiveness of the healthcare and pregnancy support industry. Many other providers are offering similar services, so we must work hard to stand out.

As a tech company, we require ongoing technological investments and cybersecurity measures to maintain a reliable online platform for our subscription program and telehealth services.

Another challenge we face is health education. Educating expectant mothers about the importance of maternal health and the services available to them can be difficult, particularly in areas with limited health literacy.

Finally, ensuring the financial sustainability of the business, especially when offering affordable subscription programs, can be quite challenging. However, social enterprises like Malaica play a vital role in improving maternal health and supporting expectant mothers. Our dedication to our mission can lead to positive outcomes for both the business and the community it serves.

What lessons have you learned?

My journey as the founder of Malaica has taught me several vital lessons. I’ve come to understand that empathy is the cornerstone of effective support for mums-to-be. Recognising the diversity of experiences among our users and tailoring our services accordingly is crucial.

Building a strong community of support through supamums and support groups is powerful. The world of women’s health is ever-evolving, necessitating continuous adaptation and improvement.

Challenging the stigma surrounding women’s health is essential, and affordability should never be compromised. Collaboration with experts enhances the quality of care, and unwavering passion fuels dedication to our mission. These lessons guide our commitment to making pregnancy safe, convenient, and stigma-free for women worldwide.

Where are you with Malaica now?

Malaica has come a long way since its inception. We are now a reliable and easily accessible online platform for pregnancy support services, with a reach across the nation. Our commitment to providing comprehensive care, including access to nurse midwives, specialists like gynaecologists, paediatricians, psychologists, and support groups, has cemented our position as a go-to resource for expecting mothers. We strive to eliminate the stigma surrounding women’s health and continue to evolve and grow.

Malaica’s commitment to affordability and inclusivity ensures that we remain a beacon of support for women worldwide. Although our journey is ongoing, we are proud of the progress we have made.

Where do you see the company in the future?

We are committed to expanding Malaica’s reach and improving the pregnancy journey for expectant mothers in Kenya and beyond. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that even more mothers have access to better support and care throughout their pregnancy.

As a health tech company, we will continue to leverage advanced technology for telehealth services, making our services more accessible and convenient, especially for mothers in remote areas.

We also aim to foster connections among mothers and provide a strong network of emotional support through our expanding community of expectant mothers. Additionally, we are building partnerships with healthcare institutions, NGOs, and government bodies to strengthen our impact on maternal health and reach underserved populations.

Education and advocacy are major challenges in the pregnancy healthcare space, and we will continue to engage in initiatives that raise awareness about maternal health issues and promote healthy pregnancy practices.

Overall, we are optimistic about Malaica’s future as we adapt to the changing healthcare landscape and provide essential support to expectant mothers.


Dr Lorraine Muluka holds a master’s degree in medicine with a specialisation in obstetrics and gynaecology. Driven by a passion for improving the Kenyan healthcare system through innovation, Dr Muluka has played significant roles in several healthcare start-ups over the past decade, while also maintaining her role as a consultant obstetrician at her private practice in Nairobi. At the end of 2021, Muluka co-founded the health tech start-up Malaica. She is currently serving as the CEO of the company.

Continue Reading


Copyright © 2023 Aspect Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.