LIFE SCIENCE

Dr Michelle Perug­ini is shap­ing the fu­ture by us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to im­prove out­comes for women in IVF. By Vic­to­ria Baker.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

Dr Michelle Perug­ini is us­ing AI to im­prove out­comes for women in IVF.

IT SHOULD COME as no sur­prise that Pre­sagen, an in­no­va­tive ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence-based busi­ness, was born in Ade­laide, like its co-founder Dr Michelle Perug­ini. South Aus­tralia’s his­tory is filled with firsts. No­tably, it was the first place in Aus­tralia to grant some women the right to vote in 1895, a full seven years be­fore the right was ex­tended fed­er­ally. More re­cently, a gov­ern­ment fo­cus on sus­tain­abil­ity and in­no­va­tion has cre­ated more op­por­tu­nity in the tech­nol­ogy sphere. The state’s chief en­tre­pre­neur, Jim Whal­ley, is over­see­ing the cre­ation of Lot 14, a new in­no­va­tion hub in cen­tral Ade­laide, and the brand-new Aus­tralian Space Agency is based in Ade­laide, also home to sev­eral space-re­lated start-ups.

“We have a thriv­ing in­no­va­tion ecosys­tem here in South Aus­tralia,” says Perug­ini. “That in­cludes an amaz­ing tal­ent pool in the deep tech space, a sup­port­ive gov­ern­ment en­vi­ron­ment and a very co­he­sive and col­lab­o­ra­tive in­dus­try sec­tor. Af­ter los­ing our tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try, we have evolved to fo­cus on more ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy – in­clud­ing space, med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy, cy­ber se­cu­rity and AI. The ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage no longer ex­ists; it’s pos­si­ble to cre­ate a global com­pany from South Aus­tralia.”

Pre­sagen, the com­pany Perug­ini founded with her hus­band Dr Don Perug­ini and Dr Jonathan Hall, uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence for im­age-based med­i­cal di­ag­nos­tics. “We part­ner with clin­ics and re­search in­sti­tutes to cre­ate AI prod­ucts for spe­cific med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions,” says Perug­ini. Their first ap­pli­ca­tion, Life Whis­perer, uses AI to help se­lect healthy em­bryos dur­ing the IVF process. While it may seem con­fronting to have a com­puter play­ing a large part in a de­ci­sion pre­vi­ously made by an em­bry­ol­o­gist with many years of train­ing, it demon­strates the very strength of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. With com­put­ers able to process – and learn from – huge quan­ti­ties of data in a short time, in­clud­ing iden­ti­fy­ing com­plex pat­terns which may not be vis­i­ble to the hu­man eye or per­cep­ti­ble by the hu­man brain, Life Whis­perer’s early re­sults in­di­cate a marked im­prove­ment be­yond the tra­di­tional method of em­bryo se­lec­tion. Part of the com­pany’s phi­los­o­phy is to en­sure the tech­nol­ogy is widely avail­able at low cost. This means the soft­ware is web-based for easy ac­cess by clin­ics world­wide, and af­ford­able for pa­tients. The com­pany has re­cently raised a seed round of $4.5 mil­lion to ex­e­cute on their plans and scale up their busi­ness, in­clud­ing a con­tri­bu­tion from the South Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment through its Re­search Com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion and Startup Fund.

Perug­ini’s vi­sion, and that of other South Aus­tralian women past and present, was cel­e­brated re­cently at a din­ner to launch Vogue Codes for 2019 held at the Pen­folds Mag­ill Es­tate. That evening, Perug­ini spoke on a panel with Vogue Aus­tralia ed­i­tor-in-chief Ed­wina McCann and Pen­folds se­nior wine­maker Stephanie Dut­ton, who started with a de­gree in science and de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in wine while work­ing in hos­pi­tal­ity dur­ing her stud­ies. “I was un­aware at the time that my day­time univer­sity hours were set­ting me up with the tech­ni­cal skills that would un­der­pin my ca­reer, while my night-time hours were pro­vid­ing the dex­ter­ity that I would later re­quire to craft Pen­folds wines with in­tu­ition and sen­si­tiv­ity. I love that wine­mak­ing is driven by things that you can’t see, as­pects that you can’t mea­sure, im­pres­sions that you can’t de­fine, yet it is still de­scribed as a science,” she says.

The story of Pen­folds it­self is one of vi­sion and in­no­va­tion, which made the lo­ca­tion fit­ting for a night that cel­e­brated some of the state’s most in­spir­ing women. Dr Christo­pher Pen­fold, his wife Mary and daugh­ter Ge­orgina, ar­rived in the colony of South Aus­tralia in 1844, bring­ing with them the first vine cut­tings from France and es­tab­lish­ing a wine-mak­ing busi­ness at Mag­ill, with Mary teach­ing her­self the tech­nique and di­rect­ing the wine­mak­ing.

“Every­one ex­pected that Mary Pen­fold would sell the fam­ily busi­ness when Dr Pen­fold passed away,” says Dut­ton, “but she sur­vived him by a fur­ther 25 years, con­tin­u­ing the en­tire time to build the brand out­side of the tiny colony of Ade­laide. What a great re­minder that you don’t al­ways have to do what is ex­pected of you.” Mary’s in­te­gral con­tri­bu­tion to the brand is cel­e­brated in The Com­man­der In Chief 2017 South Aus­tralian shi­raz caber­net, re­leased in March as part of the Trib­ute range hon­our­ing its founders and leg­ends.

Dut­ton points out that gen­der diver­sity in wine­mak­ing, although per­haps not his­tor­i­cally a pri­or­ity, should be a fore­gone con­clu­sion. “Wine­mak­ing re­lies on an in­di­vid­ual’s bi­ol­ogy. Tast­ing is in­flu­enced by body tem­per­a­ture, hours of sleep, hor­mones, sen­sory re­cep­tors and so much more. It makes com­plete sense to have bi­o­log­i­cal and gen­der diver­sity in a wine­mak­ing team.” When asked about how she feels as a woman in a male-dom­i­nated field, Perug­ini re­ports that things have changed sig­nif­i­cantly for women in tech­nol­ogy. “The onus is now on us to take the op­por­tu­ni­ties we can and show­case the con­tri­bu­tions we can make,” she says. “I think we will have amaz­ing fe­male en­trepreneur­s fil­ter­ing through who will be­come lead­ers in their fields and en­gen­der the next gen­er­a­tion of in­no­va­tors.”

Dr Michelle Perug­ini and Stephanie Dut­ton were speak­ers at the Visionary Women Din­ner at Pen­folds Mag­ill Es­tate Cel­lar Door as part of Vogue Codes 2019. For more, see page 169.

“We have evolved to fo­cus on more ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy … The ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage no longer ex­ists; it’s pos­si­ble to cre­ate a global com­pany from Ade­laide”

Dr Michelle Perug­ini at the launch of Vogue Codes 2019 held at Pen­folds Mag­ill Es­tate.

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