Artificial intelligence is seeping into every aspect of life – including the making of babies.
“Ivy” is the artificial intelligence being developed by Sydney-based healthcare start-up Harrison-AI, and IVFAustralia (part of listed player Virtus Health), and allows embryologists to identify the embryo with the best chance of achieving a successful pregnancy as quickly as possible.
Virtus says time-lapse video images of thousands of embryos during their development were used to “train” the AI without the potential for human bias or subjective assessment.
IVFAustralia medical director Peter Illingworth said the introduction of the Ivy AI technology had the potential to transform IVF medicine by shortening the timeframe to a successful pregnancy and increasing IVF pregnancy rates, because it provides an EmbryoScore predicting an embryo’s potential to develop a fetal heart.
“What we can see at this stage is we can predict with much greater certainty that the embryo will implant,” he told The Australian Financial Review.
“We have not yet evaluated the costs to patients. But the development is about getting the patient pregnant more quickly, so this would lower IVF costs overall. This this our aim.
“We believe it is the most advanced tool of its kind in human embryology. Artificial intelligence technology is likely, in future, to be the dominant embryo selection method used in IVF.”
Associate Professor Illingworth said IVFAustralia had invested heavily in time-lapse incubators, which cost about $200,000 each.
Embryologists manually assess each embryo based on its physical appearance at a limited number of critical development check points, using a standard grading system together with digital time-lapse imagery to select the best embryo to transfer to the woman.
Ivy AI observes the embryo’s development while the embryo remains completely undisturbed in the time-lapse incubator. Ivy looks at the first five days of the embryo’s life, and does this for 2000 embryos. Ivy takes millions of pieces of information and correlates this data, which then will tell the embryologist which embryo will have a successful fetal heart and accelerate the chance of a healthy baby.
Pre-clinical validation of the technology has been conducted in Virtus Health clinics using the data obtained from more than 2600 embryos from NSW, the ACT and Queensland laboratories. The company has lodged a patent application and now plans to further evaluate Ivy in a multi-centre randomised clinical trial at Virtus Health’s Australian and European laboratories this year.
Professor Illingworth expects the new technology to be available to patients within the next 12 months.
Virtus is the largest network and provider of fertility services in Australia and Ireland, with a growing presence in Singapore, Britain and Denmark. Virtus and rival IVF provider Monash IVF have suffered over the past 12 months, with Monash shares down 37 per cent for the year, while Virtus shares have staged some recovery eking out 2.75 per cent gain. Virtus reported a 3.7 per cent decline in IVF cycles to 15,776 for the 2016-17 year.