Starting a family is one of life’s most natural progressions, essentially preserving our collective future since the beginning of time. Family structures are shaped in unique configurations, but the desire to care for, nurture, and love your child is universal. The extraordinary elements that must perfectly collide to create life are nothing short of miraculous, yet pregnancy is so often taken for granted, underestimated as commonplace. That is, until one is faced with the realization that the “general” flow of life does not apply to them.
Whether the inhibiting factor is infertility, biology, or a matter of circumstance, the hopelessness of a lost dream is excruciating. Understanding the delicate factors involved, IVF practitioners strive to be the source of encouragement for expectant parents in the face of this enormous challenge.
Current status of IVF results
Since the birth of the first IVF baby in 1978, the fields of embryology and in vitro fertilization (IVF) have made the impossible possible for expectant parents suffering from infertility. However, possible does not mean simple, and IVF success statistics have not changed much over the past few decades. Actually only 30-40% of women will realize a live birth in the first round of IVF. One such cycle can cost between $12k-$25k, making this a risky business with no guarantee of a positive outcome.
A major driver of this statistical stagnation is the lack of standardization of practice in the field. Patients receive a variety of treatments, leading to great differentiation in outcomes. Although embryologists are extremely well educated and highly skilled, success rates in embryo selection are inconsistent at best. In the absence of a consistent end-to-end data collection and interpretation system for this process, IVF is ripe for disruption.
Embryological practice determines the successful formation of life
IVF depends on the field of embryology. Embryologists are trained in the study of embryo formation, growth, and development, and are tasked with deciding which embryo to select for transfer in hopes of leading to a live birth.
Typically, embryologists place a fertilized egg in an incubator and manually check progress under a microscope over a period of five to six days. It is up to the embryologist to judge how many times a day they assess and make notes on development, usually looking at day one, two or three and day five to judge if the embryo is viable.
The process of carefully removing a developing embryo from an incubator to observe under a microscope and record the data is time-consuming. The highly technical task of safely maintaining the beginnings of life outside the body leaves little room for error. Embryologists evaluate the developing embryo using approximately five data points available for human analysis. Even with their extensive training, education, and clinical experience, so few stages in embryo development leave much room for variation in decision-making.
IVF specialists rely on their education, basic assessment parameters and their own experience to make decisions. For perspective, imagine receiving blood test results without established parameters that show a range of normal limits. Diagnosis and any treatment will be based on the judgment of the observer and not on any evidence-based standards. This analogy explains the disappointing state in which IVF has worked so far.
Empowering embryologists with AI-driven decision support
When evaluated under a microscope, the embryologist can look at several morphological features of the embryo once a day to determine its viability. However, with the introduction of time-lapse monitoring systems in the IVF laboratory, there is an opportunity to use new computer vision and AI technology that can capture images at almost any stage of embryo development and assess additional developmental details , which cannot be obtained by the human eye. An artificial intelligence system trained by “expert eyes” captures and processes a large database of embryos developing in time-lapse incubators, analyzing this data combined with treatment results. Based on this, AI provides information to help embryologists make consistent, data-driven decisions. This in turn should lead to more consistent decision making among embryologists and lead to improved pregnancy and live birth outcomes.
AI bridges the human error gap and maximizes potential IVF success rates. AI’s ability to analyze big data paves the way for improving IVF outcomes and developing evidence-based parameters that establish a consistent standard of care.
Financial implications of embryo selection accuracy
The ability to improve consistency in selection of viable embryos also impacts financial investment and minimizes patient risk with fewer cycles to live birth. The IVF cycle is the process of retrieving an egg from an ovary, fertilizing, monitoring and selecting a viable embryo for transfer, and finally transferring the embryo with the hope of implantation. Two weeks later, the patient will receive the first result of the pregnancy test. This three-week process is an emotional journey, an expensive journey, and one with a disappointingly low chance of success.
In addition, IVF is not without risk to the patient’s health due to the procedure of egg retrieval and multiple embryo transfer to increase the chances of a viable pregnancy and reduce costs. By using AI sequencing in embryo selection, you can reduce unnecessary cycles and risks. The decision support tool IVF clinicians have in AI-analyzed data supports transparent, explainable, evidence-based information that invites expectant parents to the decision-making table.
A bright and hopeful future awaits the 90 million couples worldwide struggling with infertility. AI that provides explainable, transparent data that IVF clinicians can understand and trust is poised to improve IVF success rates, which have stagnated for too long. Infusing transparency through this process will turn the scary unknown into a hopeful process. Children are our greatest commodity and most precious gift. With the help of AI technology, natural life can be accessible to everyone.