48 TMRW Digital Platform
For modernizing the IVF clinic with automated storage and tracking
Once an experimental outlier, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is now unmistakably mainstream. Though the tech was developed less than 50 years ago, each year, 2.5 million IVF cycles are completed globally, resulting in more than 500,000 births. And it’s estimated that some 300 million human beings will have been conceived through IVF by 2100. (Further proof of IVF’s significance: To mark PMI’s 50th anniversary, the inaugural Most Influential Projects list highlighted the game-changing breakthroughs of the past five decades, and the first IVF baby—Louise Brown, born in 1978—made the cut, at #40.)
Yet while the procedure has exploded in popularity, no standardized system has emerged for tracking and monitoring the millions of eggs and embryos harvested and fertilized during the IVF process. That’s alarming considering the living tissues—so precious as to be irreplaceable—are highly sensitive, and the risks of mishandling can be catastrophic. In one highly publicized case, a U.S. fertility clinic lost more than 4,000 eggs and embryos due to a storage tank’s temperature failure, impacting hundreds of patients. And mix-ups in which the incorrect embryo is transferred into a patient are most often traced back to lab error, according to a 2021 meta-analysis.
Into that high-stakes arena, enter: TMRW Life Sciences, a tech startup led by Tara Comonte, herself an IVF patient. “As a mother who’s been through it, I know firsthand how important it is to have confidence that your fertility clinic is doing everything possible to secure and protect your eggs and embryos, minimize risk to them and provide as much transparency in the process as possible,” she says.
To bring IVF management into the digital era, TMRW’s team developed an automated platform to track each cell individually and automatically, providing 24/7 monitoring and a transparent chain of custody. The platform aims to eliminate the analog systems still used by many fertility clinics, such as paper logs of patient data, hand-labeled specimens and inexact temperature monitoring. This is a full-on digital transformation, complete with radiofrequency identification tags, real-time temperature and humidity sensors that alert fertility clinic staff if intervention is needed, and robotics for specimen retrieval (a task with heightened risk for accidental temperature shifts).
The team piloted the platform at four U.S. clinics in early 2021, safely transitioning more than 30,500 existing eggs and embryos into its technology. Following that, TMWR rolled out nationwide earlier this year, with a U.K. expansion on the horizon.