15 May 2020

Australian-first trial using the power of AI begins and welcomes back hopeful IVF parents

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IVF Australia

As patients restart IVF they are welcomed back and invited to join Australia’s largest randomised controlled trial (RCT), to evaluate the effectiveness of an artificial intelligence-powered embryo evaluation tool, which commences this week.

The RCT, the world’s biggest prospective clinical trial of AI, will enrol 1,000 patients at seven study sites across a network of Virtus Health’s premium fertility clinics in Australia, Ireland and Denmark, with the first Australian-based patients beginning this week.

The multi-centre international trial will investigate if embryo selection in the laboratory using artificial intelligence (AI) based technology performs equally to embryologists. The trial is being led by Virtus Health and Vitrolife.

Dr Peter Illingworth, Medical Director IVFAustralia, Virtus Health, said the AI-powered embryo evaluation tool helps embryologists to identify the embryo with the highest chance of resulting in a successful pregnancy.

“As we restart IVF treatment across Virtus Health’s clinics, we are excited to commence and lead this important Australian-first research and offer trial participation to our patients. Particularly as early research findings of the AI-based software have already shown promising results.

“During an IVF cycle, embryos are grown in an incubator fitted with time-lapse cameras to non-invasively assess the embryo, during the five days of incubation.

“The AI-based software assesses this enormous amount of time-lapse imaging data, taken every 10 minutes, and has taught itself to identify the embryos with the greatest likelihood of developing a fetal heart by allocating each embryo an embryo score.

“The embryo with the highest score can then be selected for transfer by the embryologist with the aim of accelerating the chance to a successful pregnancy as quickly as possible,” said Dr Illingworth.

Virtus Health was the first to introduce this artificial intelligent embryo selection software, known as ‘IVY’, to its Australian clinics in 2019 after the development of IVY with Harrison-AI, and the preliminary research showed promising results.

With the growing scientific evaluation in IVY, in April 2019 Virtus Health entered into a transfer and collaboration of IVY to Swedish company Vitrolife - the manufacturer of EmbryoScope time lapse incubators - and Harrison.AI, an Australian technology company specialising in AI in healthcare.

“The IVY AI system has now been further developed, making use of an additional dataset of 115,000 embryo development time-lapse sequences with known clinical fate, and this next iteration, known as iDAScore®, is being investigated during the RCT,” said Dr Illingworth.

“We believe that iDAScore®, the next generation of IVY AI, is the most advanced tool of its kind in human embryology. While other AI tools exist for assessing embryos, none has been demonstrated to have the level of predictive value that is necessary. However, as we still understand the impact of this on patient care, a randomised controlled trial is required as it’s the scientific gold standard for demonstrating efficacy and safety,” said Dr Illingworth.

Vitrolife and Virtus Health will run the RCT within Virtus clinics to investigate the enormous potential of the new system.

Half of the study participants will be randomly assigned into the test group where the iDAScore® AI-based software will select the embryo and the other control group will have their embryo selection by the current embryologist human gold standard.

Dr Peter Illingworth said IVY AI shows a good correlation with a skilled embryologist but iDAScore® is the first AI-based system to actually rank embryos based on predicted fetal heart rate outcomes solely from study of the embryonic development.

“Scientists believe they have found a way to shorten the time frame to a successful IVF pregnancy by using AI and now we are one step closer to verifying AI’s enormous potential in IVF thanks to the commencement of the RCT,” said Dr Illingworth. 

Virtus Health will continue to work with Harrison.AI to improve IVF services and outcomes via artificial intelligence and machine learning.

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