This week we got a chance to interview one of our favorite innovators and certified #bosslady in the ART (assisted reproduction technologies) space about her trailblazing venture, ARTCompass.
Carol Lynn Curchoe is an American reproductive biologist specializing in Molecular biology, Cell biology and Biotechnology. Her key contributions to those fields include advances in stem cell culture, epigenetics and reprogramming.
Dr. Carol, tell us your story. How did you become interested and involved in the field of embryology and where did the idea for ARTCompass stem from?
I have a PhD in the physiology of Reproduction, which I earned over 15 years ago. Before I started in the field of clinical embryology at the age of 38, I was in research, administration, politics and startups (I invented a "biological supercapacitor"!) until I became pregnant with my own miracle baby. I knew I needed to help others achieve their family building dreams and find a career I could leave my own little miracle every day for.
Starting as a "junior" embryologist, I quickly learned that I had no way to compare my clinical decision making to people who had many years in the field. I had no way to easily know if my judgment in grading embryos was correct, or even close, other than by sitting at the microscope with the senior embryologists, who never seemed to have enough time, given their many responsibilities and clinical workload.
Human clinical embryology has a LONG and slow learning curve. Developing clinical decision-making takes years and years of on the bench training, it never ends actually! The embryologist's training and skills can have a tremendous impact on your IVF cycle, and are referred to as "staff competency". Some of the clinical decisions your embryologist will make during your IVF cycle are; which "normal" sperm to choose for ICSI, where to immobilize the sperm tail to capture the sperm for injection, where to aim the laser during assisted hatching, selecting the embryos for biopsy and cryopreservation, and choosing the best quality embryo for your frozen embryo transfer. The ARTCompass app was initially one single module that focused on embryology training and assessment only.
How have you and your team scaled ARTCompass over the years and how does this technology add value to the lifecycle of IVF treatment for both the medical staff and patients?
As I became fully trained, I learned that the IVF lab is held together by clipboards, paper clips, and staples. The most important records in our patient’s world, the record of their frozen “embabies”, can get misplaced, mislabeled, and mistakes can be made frighteningly easily.
My technology has grown to centralize the management of all types of IVF lab data into a single platform that can save IVF practices hundreds of hours of staff time, the cost of endlessly buying and printing on paper, and now we are even integrating with the federal registry to automate data reporting.
More esoterically, we also have an eye to the future. Artificial Intelligence systems are dominating the world, except in IVF. Why? Because they can’t access the text or image data that is stuck in the IVF lab on pieces of paper. We are redefining how Big Data is collected and managed for IVF AI systems.
How does better record management and processing improve fertility rates for intended parents?
As an embryologist in the USA, I have hand-transcribed IVF cycle data (patient name, DOB, medical record number, and other demographics) from the “paper packet” of a single IVF cycle up to 7 times, from the “daily checks sheet” to the chain of custody, clinical EMR, cryostorage inventory, dewar specimen log, statistics spreadsheet, research spreadsheet, and lastly, into the SART CORS system. Image data (if collected at all) is almost never connected to the IVF lab KPI data, which is almost never connected to the clinical data.
At least 100 times a day, I wondered, shouldn’t this be easier?
In reproduction, AI systems could solve some of the hardest problems in reproductive medicine. For example, the complex dialogue between endometrium and embryo and recurrent miscarriage, the physiological function of the uterus and disease states like endometriosis and adenomyosis, new therapeutic targets for biological and chronological ovarian ageing, preimplantation genetics to improve pregnancy outcome, and recurrent implantation failure.
The development of AI systems for ART has thus far developed around areas where embryo images (2D or timelapse video) are available including, embryo selection, prediction of ploidy, and live birth.
What are some other existing areas within the ART space that could benefit from the deployment of advanced AI systems?
An immediate problem that could be addressed in the near future by these systems is “non-invasive” genetic diagnosis, vastly reducing the number of abnormal embryos that are sent for further genetic testing and frozen at IVF clinics- drastically reducing costs, man-hours, and embryo storage problems.
And this is why we developed ARTCompass; to internalize AI systems into the routine course of patient care in an easy and automated fashion and solve some of the major challenges of reproductive medicine