Like many women, Piraye Beim was 30 when her friends began talking to her about starting families, always with their age playing the most pivotal role in the decision-making process. She remembers that “many were surprised to see that they were already struggling with miscarriages and infertility, even in their early 30s.” It’s a story most of us know well, but for Beim, women’s reproductive health was already a life calling. In fact, Beim turned 30 while at Cambridge pursuing her post-doctorate in genetics and fertility — hearing these deeply personal stories from her loved ones only solidified her belief that “in the era of big data and genomics, there was a better way for women to be navigating their family building journeys.”
And she believes that better way is in genetics. “The first full human genome sequence was announced the same year that I started graduate school — for the first time in human history, we could start leveraging the power of the genome to be more proactive about our health,” Beim recalls. It was this decoding that sparked her academic interest in genomics and she eventually became one of a select few experts on women’s reproductive health-related genes. “It’s an area that gets very little research funding,” she says, so she decided to do something about it.
Beim moved back to New York and, in 2009, founded Celmatix. It’s a personalized medicine company that uses big data and technology to revolutionize the reproductive health and fertility spaces. The fertility products she and her team have developed focus on personal biology and genetics — not just age — which doctors can use to help women make informed, proactive decisions about their own fertility future. After all, “Fertility isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ thing,” which makes it even more important that women talk to their doctors to understand “and analyze unique factors beyond age.”
And while female fertility in 2018 has definitely come along way, Beim says that “it’s just recently that women (and their doctors) are learning how to harness genetic information and make it actionable.” Make it actionable Beim did, with two fertility tests — the Fertilome genetic test and the Polaris database.
Fertilome Genetic Test
“The Fertilome test is the first multigene panel test that shows women how their biology might affect their fertility today or in the future; it provides women with insights regarding their risk for having conditions that may affect their reproductive health, including their fertility,” Beim explains. The results of this test gives doctors vital genetic information that women can use to help successfully achieve their family planning goals, whether that’s “egg freezing, consulting a fertility specialist, adopting lifestyle changes, having kids at a younger age, choosing an employer with good fertility benefits, or saving money in case you do end up needing IVF down the road.”
Driven by big data, the Polaris platform is a “digital analytics tool used by fertility clinics that helps optimize patient management and counseling.” By analyzing clinical data and using predictive modeling, Polaris delivers a “visual, personalized report that conveys likely outcomes across several courses of treatment, helping physicians and patients determine their best path forward.” The web-based software uses dozens of metrics (both from clinical studies and predictive models) that are relevant to a woman’s individual medical history and genetic makeup to see the likelihood of success through various courses of action. It’s like an immediate second opinion and look into a crystal ball, rolled into one.
Both products are only available through a doctor — you can enter your zipcode to find a fertility specialist that offers access to the products.
Millennial fertility misconceptions
“We know that millennial women are concerned about their fertility,” Beim says. Celmatix recently conducted a survey of 3,000 college-educated women ages 22-25 who don’t have kids but want them someday. They found that “87 percent of millennial women think about their fertility and ability to have children.” The study also found that nearly half of those surveyed are planning to start a family after the age of 30, with the idea that fertility treatments will be readily available to them if needed.
But Beim says it’s not always so simple. She reiterates, “The reality is that very few people who need fertility treatments can afford them, and they don’t work for everyone. As a generation that’s come to expect technology to be natively integrated into their lives, it’s not surprising that this attitude pervades, but it could lead to some unrealistic expectations.”
Thankfully for them, however, millennials are “the first generation to come of reproductive age in the post-genomic era,” and can take advantage of products like Fertilome and Polaris now, in order to plan for the future.
One of the biggest barriers to women’s fertility empowerment is the silence and stigma that surrounds it, Beim has found. In an age where we share almost everything, fertility and reproductive health remain one of the last frontiers of women’s health.
Beim says she’s noticed a “feeling among many women that you need to stay silent when it comes to your fertility,” and shared some seriously staggering stats: “One-fifth of women who have miscarriages do not even tell their partners. Three-quarters of women who are interested in fertility treatments or who have undergone fertility treatments have not spoken to their friends about it, and more than a quarter of women who are interested in freezing their eggs or those who have frozen their eggs haven’t talked about it with anyone.” Those are major, life-altering decisions and events that no one should have to face alone in feelings of shame or guilt.
So to help de-stigmatize fertility, Celmatix has joined forces with like-minded companies to encourage women to #SaytheFword and share their reproductive health goals, “which could range from asking their family members and partners about their reproductive history, to having a conversation about fertility with their doctor or seeking fertility support from a specialist,” Beim says. The company is so committed to this movement that they’re donating one dollar (up to $25,000) to women’s health non-profits for every pledge.
Would you use genetic information to guide your family planning decisions? Tweet us @BritandCo and tell us what you think!
(Photos via Celmatix and Getty)