The sex of babies is typically identified between 18-22 weeks of pregnancy using ultrasound. Genetic testing is required to identify sex at earlier stages. A group of scientists across the USA and Australia embarked on an experiment to see if the sex of babies can be identified as early as a Day 5 embryo, using artificial intelligence to analyse the visual appearance of the embryo. Understanding sex identification at the embryo stage may provide insights into the male bias created during the IVF process.
The results of the study, published in the prestigious Fertility and Sterility publication, and presented at Pacific Coast Reproductive Society 2023, showed that an embryo’s visual appearance (or morphology) can actually be predictive of sex. When the AI is confident of the sex associated with the embryo, it was able to correctly identify sex over 70% of the time, as verified by genetic testing of the embryo. Whilst not as definitive as a conventional, invasive genetic test or an 18-22 week ultrasound scan, it does highlight that there are differences in visible features between male and female embryos at this early stage.
The study was conducted by Ovation Fertility (USA) and AI healthcare company Presagen (USA-Australia). Presagen has an AI product Life Whisperer, which analyses images of embryos to evaluate their quality with the aim of improving pregnancy outcomes. Life Whisperer is currently used by IVF clinics globally. It provides an objective evaluation of the likelihood that an embryo will lead to a pregnancy, as well as an instant, non-invasive assessment of the likelihood that the embryo is genetically normal (euploid).
Whilst accuracy and ethical concerns may limit the application of an AI for sex selection in clinical practise, there is an open question around the potential use to address unintended sex bias during IVF. Evidence shows that male embryos develop somewhat faster than female embryos in vitro, thus appearing better developed by the time of selection. This results in the preferential selection of male embryos for transfer during IVF, with ~55% of babies born via IVF being male compared with ~45% being female.
The use of AI to non-invasively and instantly assess sex at the time of selection could potentially help address this imbalance by identifying those that are more likely to be female when there are multiple good quality embryos to choose from. However, there are no immediate plans to commercialise this AI for clinical use. Rather the study shows that the use of AI can be useful to further our knowledge of biological systems, in the hope that it can lead to improved healthcare treatments and outcomes in the future.
Life Whisperer is a world-leader in the application of AI in IVF. The Life Whisperer Viability and Genetics AI-based embryo assessment tools are the first to be commercialized in a series of applications that encompass the complete IVF journey. Life Whisperer aims to improve IVF success rates at every point and, as a result, reduce time-to-pregnancy, making IVF more affordable and accessible to patients globally. Life Whisperer is being used in IVF clinics around the world.
Presagen is an AI healthcare company that is changing the way clinics, patients, and medical data from around the world are connected through AI. Its platform, The Social Network for Healthcare, connects clinics and patients globally, and enables collaboration and data sharing to create scalable AI healthcare products that are affordable and accessible for all. The decentralized network democratizes the creation of AI products, promotes collaboration through incentives, and protects data privacy and ownership. With a focus on improving Women’s Health outcomes globally, Presagen’s first product, Life Whisperer, is being used by IVF clinics globally to improve pregnancy outcomes for couples struggling with fertility. With a vision of creating the largest network of clinics, patients, and medical data from around the world, Presagen is driving the future of AI Enhanced Healthcare.