By Melissa Keogh
South Australian stem cell biologist-turned-entrepreneur Dr Michelle Perugini is set to not only change lives, but help create them.
From Adelaide Life Whisperer co-founder Dr Perugini has helped to develop cutting-edge technology that will improve IVF couples’ chances at having children.
Life Whisperer is an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven, cloud-based image analysis platform that improves accuracy of healthy embryo selection in IVF treatments.
Set for commercial release in 2018, the Adelaide-based start-up will be a lifeline for many couples undergoing unpredictable and expensive IVF treatments which currently have a low success rate.
“There are 1.4 million people who undergo IVF each year … it’s is a huge industry that’s growing by about 12% globally year-on-year,” Dr Perugini says.
“If you know anyone who has gone through the process, it’s quite terrible and can be very traumatic.
“So it’s nice to be applying technology to help these people to have children.”
Life Whisperer was launched in February 2017 by Dr Perugini, her husband Dr Don Perugini and business partner Dr Jonathan Hall.
Currently, IVF involves an embryologist selecting a suitable embryo for implantation based on a visual assessment.
Life Whisperer improves the accuracy of this assessment by using key algorithms that recognise the features of a healthy embryo.
“Currently the embryologist assesses which embryo to implant by looking down a microscope, but instead they will have a software, web-based application next to that microscope,” Dr Perugini says.
“They will drag and drop the images of the embryos and it will come up with an instant assessment of which ones they should chose for probability of success.”
Life Whisperer doesn’t impose any changes in the process for the clinic or the patient, she says.
“The patient will benefit from the knowledge that they’re using the most advanced technology to be able to select the best possible embryo,” Dr Perugini says.
In June 2017 Life Whisperer partnered with Monash IVF Group and its subsidiary Repromed to allow access to thousands of embryo images.
Based in the University of Adelaide’s start-up incubator ThincLab, Life Whisperer is currently looking for funding to help launch offshore in addition to Australia-wide.
The start-up has already secured TechInSA funding to help drive commercial growth.
Life Whisperer is not Dr Perugini’s first dip into SA’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The Perugini couple are also founders of AI platform Presagen, launched in conjunction with Life Whisperer in early 2017.
Presagen specialises in automation of human-centric tasks and medical diagnostics using AI techniques.
Before launching both Presagen and Life Whisperer, the husband-and-wife duo first became an entrepreneurial force in 2007.
After completing their PhDs at the same time, the Perugini’s combined Michelle’s 10-year background in medical research with Don’s technologically-focused experience in the defence industry.
The result was start-up ISD Analytics and its revolutionary software used by businesses to predict consumer behaviour.
In 2015 ISD Analytics was sold to Ernst and Young.
The pair’s innovative solutions have taken them across the globe, including to Silicon Valley.
But raising a young family and harbouring an unwavering passion for Adelaide’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has caused them to always call SA home.
“There’s a genuine camaraderie around entrepreneurship and innovation in this state,” Dr Perugini says.
“There are so many cool things happening, we have the world-class medical precinct, access to top medical researchers, and our defence sector is producing talent in the AI space.
“Other than that, SA is a great place to live.
“What more could you want?”