What is the innovation?
Life Whisperer is a software product that aims to improve fertility outcomes by using artificial intelligence technology to better select healthy embryos during the IVF process.
The idea was conceived by a PhD student, Dr Jonathan Hall, at the University of Adelaide. He had spent some time specialising in the fertility sector and saw an opportunity to improve on the low success rates of IVF. The current approach for selecting embryos relies on a clinician making a visual assessment of the embryo, and there are very few defining features that can be used in this decision making. Computer vision and deep learning is good at assessing large volumes of data and then applying those learnings to new images. Jonathan entered this concept into a commercialisation program (eChallenge and CSIRO ON Prime) and Dr Don Perugini and Dr Michelle Perugini were assigned as Jonathan’s mentors. Don and Michelle’s skill sets in medicine and AI fit very nicely with Jonathan’s computer vision background and they decided to incorporate Life Whisperer.
What benefits does it bring?
Fertility globally is declining, and success rates for IVF are very low (~20%), placing significant emotional and financial strain on couples. Embryo selection is currently a manual process that involves a subjective assessment of embryos by an embryologist down a microscope. The few approaches available for improving selection of embryos for IVF are either invasive, risky, costly, or ineffective. Life Whisperer uses AI (deep learning) to better select healthy embryos in IVF, and to ultimately improve outcomes for couples wanting to have children. It has trained to identify healthy and unhealthy embryos from a very large dataset of embryo images with matched outcome data. The selection model can then effectively look at new images of embryos and accurately determine whether they are likely to succeed in the IVF process (see video below for more detail).
What commercial success and/or benefit to society has it achieved?
Life Whisperer in its first year has significant achievements. The major achievement is the building and validation of its technology on a large set of >1000 embryo images that showed Life Whisperer provides a 30% accuracy improvement over leading embryologists. The societal benefit of Life Whisperer will be measured by improved success rates of IVF when the product is approved and released to market.
Life Whisperer has also been recognised through winning numerous national and global innovation awards including the following:
- Talent Unleashed Global Award Winner for Best Idea – One to Watch, 2017, Life Whisperer
- TechCrunch Battlefield Australia, Top 5 Finalist, 2017, Life Whisperer
- National iAward (Merit), Startup of the Year, 2017, Life Whisperer
- National iAward (Merit), Big Data and Machine Learning, 2017, Life Whsiperer
- SA iAward, Big Data and Machine Learning Award, 2017, Life Whisperer
- SA iAward Winner, Start-up of the Year Award, 2017, Life Whisperer.
What lessons learnt can you share?
In the words of Dr Michelle Perugini, “Start-ups are always difficult and require a great deal of commitment and persistence. I have always had a passion for deep technology and improving health outcomes. Life Whisperer has provided me an opportunity to build a product I am truly proud of, and which will have a significant positive impact on society.”
“My key advice to innovators is to let passion drive your opportunities, and surround yourself with others who can help you through the journey.”
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