Infertility is a global problem that strikes individuals and couples around the world. In the U.S., 33% of people have either had fertility treatments or known someone who has. Most often, these treatments include in vitro fertilization (IVF), a tactic that has allowed more than one million babies to be born in the U.S. since 2014.
While it can be effective, the cost of IVF is steep, often amounting to between $20,000 and $30,000 a round. This doesn’t even factor in the untold psychological and sociological costs of fertility issues and failed treatments. In an age of endless innovation, it feels like more progress should have been made for the sake of families who want children.
Artificial intelligence (AI) specialists agree, and AI fertility treatment solutions are here.
AI Meets Fertility Treatments
There are two factors that require analysis when couples face fertility issues: the sperm and the egg. These genetic materials are both viable culprits for a couple being unable to conceive. A few problems contribute to the broader challenges couples face, the first of which is that most often a woman is tested first, and sometimes she’s the only one. Analyzing egg health and female reproductive cycles is important, but it is only half of the equation.
A second problem is outdated tech and processes. Burak Ozkosem, a researcher and fertility specialist describes a major barrier: “There aren’t many innovative technologies in this system. We are using 30 year old technologies or even technology developed in the 1970s to analyze sperm. We sit in front of a microscope and are analyzing sperm but how do we know if it’s healthy or not? There is very little information from the man, and even less criteria for analyzing the specimen. What’s more, sperm move, which makes it very hard to observe.” During his lab years, Ozkosem explains that he’d be positioned next to researchers in other departments whose technology and permissions were so far beyond his own that it baffled him. For something as high stakes as human fertility, why weren’t there more resources?
To address the frustration in the field, a company called Pera Labs was founded. This company has collected the best and brightest talent both in fertility research and in technology and created a new product that has the power to transform fertility treatments in the future.
New Technology for Enhancing Fertility Treatment
For any technology to succeed in this space, it has to meet a few criteria: it needs to be as automated as possible, not reliant on someone with advanced specialization to manually review; it needs to be globally applicable, transferable from clinic to clinic in any context; it needs to be accessible, not financially prohibitive or too complicated. The goal of this smart technology, developed for clinics, is to help couples start a family with less financial and psychological burden.
In 2019, The Science Center in Philadelphia launched an accelerator program, identifying Pera Labs as the start up with great potential in this space. The company develops digiceuticals and AI-powered solutions for reproductive health problems. Their flagship product is the groundbreaking SPERMAN® technology. This product offers a feature called “separating studs from the duds,” with proprietary processes for sperm analysis and sorting.
This technology has means of analysis for both sperm and eggs, which is key. There is a lot of industry focus on embryo selection that’s gained VC-backing and emphasis in the field. This new technology has means of analysis for both sperm and eggs, an often-absent piece of the puzzle.
The DNA of a sperm is the only piece that gets transferred to the egg. The father’s sperm DNA integrity or quality is correlated to increased miscarriage rates, neurodegenerative disorders and more. It’s essential that it not be neglected. Using ethically acceptable indirect approaches, the sperm genome can be analyzed to observe a series of markers that indicate potential problems. Complex algorithmic and smart, AI-based processes are activated to perform statistical analyses and provide predictions on the quality of the sperm.
This product is delivered via lab-on-a-chip. For the sperm, morphology, movement and other indicators can disqualify sperm, alerting the user to a problem with the sample. All of it is uploaded via an app and can be shared with electronic health records (EHRs) and medical care providers. This is the first time that men’s sperm health has been connected in this way to egg health and the wider efforts of fertility treatments.
Based on a similar concept, web based egg quality analysis is also conducted through image and video upload. In the cloud, algorithms crunch numbers and score the egg, offering a prediction for how viable the egg would be for conception. This combination of hardware and software makes it easy for users and is a zero-harm process. All of the data is contained in a smart contract, a move the team took early on to safeguard against cross-border or cross-state health record sharing and data security.
The company has a 95% rate of accuracy for calculating the quality of sperm and eggs analyzed through the platform. An immediate and measurable outcome of this is reducing the number of fertility treatment cycles a couple has to go through. Armed with accurate information, they can make thoughtful decisions and undergo treatments with the best chances of success.
Over the past 35 years, fertility treatments have become increasingly common. However, the success rate has not grown beyond 50% at the high end, and well under that in some demographics. The future has to tell a different story, and technology is the key.
The Future of Assisted Reproductive Technologies: IVF-on-a-Chip & More
Pera Labs is the first of its kind, and this tech is already catching the attention of other industries. For instance, leaders in agrotechnology are considering similar systems for use in livestock. Knowing parentange, better controlling breeding and shaping trends could be financially transformative for entire countries where the GDP is largely livestock-dependent.
But the heart of getting this new tech into the world is about people. Time is long overdue to help people who want to start a family accomplish their goals. Technology upgrades are in order, and AI specialists are at the forefront of developing new systems to provide better, faster and more affordable processes for successful conception.
There are untold benefits to enabling access to this kind of technology: rewarding deserving individuals, easing the financial burden of fertility treatments, not to mention consistent birth rates to support growing economies.
Technology isn’t just out there improving lives: it’s creating them.
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