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This startup — and Seattle doctor — is aiming to bring AI to IVF

  • Hope Reese

In vitro fertilization, or IVF, has been around for more than four decades ¬¬— yet many women still struggle to conceive a child. Only half of IVF procedures were successful, according to a 2018 report from WebMD — and that’s for women ages 35 and under. For those 42 and older undergoing the procedure, only 3.9% were able to conceive. On top of that, the procedures are expensive. Only some insurance plans cover it, and the average IVF cycle (which includes one egg retrieval and embryo transfer) can cost up to $25,000, with medication, according to the N.C.S.L., leaving it out of reach for most Americans.

Artificial intelligence is now being cast as a solution to these problems. Fairtility, an Israeli startup, just became the first IVF company employing AI to be granted a European Conformity CE mark. This status, which means it passed the requirements of the European Medical Devices Regulation, positions the new treatment to be available, commercially, across Europe.

Seattle doctor Dr. Gerard Letterie, is now the academic head of the AI Academy launched by Fairtility. As a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, Dr. Letterie is harnessing his experience to oversee a series of AI Academy Sessions. These sessions will explore every aspect of AI in fertility, from the technology to patient care to ethical issues surrounding the process. The AI Academy was first introduced in Milan, Italy, from July 3-6, at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).

At this initial session, Dr. Letterie introduced the new program, and led a panel discussion with other experts in the field of IVF, including Dr. Nikica Zaninovic from Weill Cornell Medical College, Dr. Marcos Meseguer, at IVIRMA, consultant and VP of clinical affairs at Fairtility, Dr. Cristina Hickman, and Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center’s Dr. Assaf Ben-Meir, co-founder and chief medical officer of Fairtility.

According to Fairtility, AI can be an assistant to fertility doctors, helping them accurately identify and select embryos. At ESHRE, it was reported that CHLOE EQ, the AI product, can help find chromosomally-typical embryos at 90% accuracy — double that of manual methods today. The startup also claims that the product can reduce the time for IVF by 30 hours. Both of these improvements could help save patients’ time and money.

Dr. Letterie, in a press release, acknowledged the tricky territory that is involved in bringing AI into IVF. As in any new field, “the uptake of these tools hinges on education and understanding. The industry knows that AI presents an important opportunity in fertility care, but does not fully understand what capabilities and limitations exist, nor what to expect out of AI in this field,” he commented.

The AI Academy is aimed at bringing this education to IVF professionals, to help involve them in engaging in treatment and conversations around the new technology. The first official AI Academy session, “AI, the new frontier: Everything you need to know about this tech” will be held on September 2, 2022, led by Dr. Nadav Rapoport of Ben Gurion University’s Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering.