Sunday, 10 Dec 2023

AI Is The Answer We Need for Solving Infertility — Here's How

For some, getting pregnant is hard. Not only does it require meticulous timing of your ovulation, hormone balancing, and certain lifestyle changes but tracking your fertility and with no guarantee of success can feel stressful. Fortunately, as technology advances, more doctors and their patients are letting artificial intelligence (AI) streamline this tedious process. 

AI is a type of machine that uses real-time data to perform functions once thought to be uniquely human. Advanced AIs, like ChatGPT, for example, can perceive, reason, learn, interact with an environment, and problem-solve. AIs are becoming a part of everyday life, from Siri and Alexa to chatbots on websites that can answer frequently asked questions. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that AI is starting to revolutionize how babies are made.

AI and ovulation tracking apps

A traditional way of keeping track of your ovulation period is to count back 14 days from when you expect to get your next period. But there are some serious flaws to this method. “Although it is generally assumed that the menstrual cycle is, on average, 28 days, many women do not have 28-day cycles,” says Eric Flisser, MD, the medical director for the fertility center RMA of NY. He says if a woman’s cycle is longer or shorter then it’s possible to miss the ovulation timeframe and lower one’s chances of getting pregnant. Apps like Flo, Eve, and Glow use AI technology to track a women’s ovulation cycles based on the user’s self-inputted data. With more data a user puts into the app, the AI detects unique patterns and fine-tunes its predictions to find your fertile window.

AI and intrauterine insemination

One area that would benefit from AI is intrauterine insemination (IUI). During the procedure, sperm is placed into the uterus, bypassing the vagina and cervix. Dr. Flisser says this can be a useful tool for men with ejaculatory or erectile dysfunction or abnormal sperm counts. But this has its pitfalls. Conception is not 100 percent guaranteed with these interventions. Plus, there is a risk for multiple pregnancy, resulting in twins and triplets. Carrying multiple pregnancies increases the risk of complications, such as premature birth and permanent handicap. This is where AI can help. It can use its algorithms to predict the success rate of IUI based on the shape and function of sperm and help create individualized treatment plans for infertile couples.

AI and In vitro fertilization

AI has improved the success rate for in vitro fertilization (IVF) — one of the most promising practices for treating infertility problems. Infertility affects roughly 11 percent of women who are of reproductive age. During the IVF process, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilized egg is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop. But IVF is not fool-proof.

Currently, each cycle of IVF can cost between $12,000 to $14,000 with no guaranteed promise of conception. Once a woman turns 35, their success rates with IVF decrease from 21.3 to 17 percent per cycle with the percentage further decreasing as one gets older. The financial and emotional costs of doing IVF can be substantial. If doctors could get better at finding the best sperm to egg combination or pinpointing the embryos most likely to result in healthy babies, they could potentially increase IVF’s success rate.

“During IVF, fertility doctors make many decisions that will affect your chance of having a baby,” says Paxton Maeder-York, CEO and founder of Alife Health. “While there’s a ton of data available that doctors could use to make those decisions, there was never an efficient way to extract actionable insights from it.” Alife’s software uses AI algorithms to sort through this data and identify what has been successful for patients with similar conditions and delivers those findings back to doctors. 

“Think of it like this,” says Maeder-York. “Our AI essentially enables your doctor to tap into the knowledge of fertility specialists around the country, accessing 40,000-plus past patient cases and analyzing what worked and what didn’t for patients like you. Using these insights, your doctor can make faster and more informed decisions to provide a care plan that is hyper-personalized to give you the best outcome possible.”

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Other software companies are offering similar applications to analyze embryo growth. Australian startup Life Whisperer tests “AI-driven image analysis” technology and says it can instantly assess embryo viability. CHLOE (Cultivating Human Life through Optimal Embryos) is a cloud-based system that uses visual and developmental cues to predict which embryo has the best chance for implantation.

The future of fertility is AI

AI will likely not replace doctors anytime soon, but it will play a significant role in the future. Experts agree that the future of improving infertility rates with AI will come from the technology’s ability to sort through large and complicated scales of data. This will allow for quicker results, more tailored treatment options, and an overall increase in fertility rates. “AI’s ability to learn from large data sets and draw predictive associations that may be too complex for humans to model accurately is an exciting avenue for research in this highly technical field,” said Flisser. “And AI has the opportunity to reduce cost and improve outcomes for patients with infertility.”

“I may be biased, but I think that AI is the most promising tool out there to revolutionize infertility care as it exists today,” adds Maeder-York. “The improvements that AI can provide will have an important impact on the continued evolution of what is possible medically.”

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