Companies Say They’ll Keep Selling This Controversial Fertility Test


Certain fertility tests often don’t predict whether women in
their thirties and up can conceive, despite how they are
marketed, a new study suggests. But startups say they’ll
continue to sell the tests anyway.

Posted on October 13, 2017, 21:02 GMT

Despite a new study that shows some fertility tests do not
accurately predict a woman’s chances of getting pregnant in her
thirties and forties, a handful of businesses say they will
keep selling the tests.

The study cast doubt on increasingly popular tests that are
sold by startups and fertility clinics on the premise that
certain hormonal levels can reveal a woman’s “ovarian reserve,”
or the number of eggs remaining in her ovaries. These tests,
which are one part of the burgeoning fertility-testing market,
appeal to women anxious about their diminishing chances of
getting pregnant.

But three businesses that sell the type of test scrutinized by
the study, including two San Francisco startups and one of the
most well-known fertility clinics in the US, told BuzzFeed News
when contacted that their tests can still be helpful for many

One of them is Future Family, which was
cofounded by a former SolarCity executive and launched this
summer. It sells a $149 “Fertility Age Test” that it says “will
give you insight into your current and future fertility.”
Modern Fertility, which
just graduated from the Silicon Valley startup incubator Y
Combinator, is taking preorders for a similar test that’s also
$149. Its female founders bill it as “the first comprehensive
fertility test you can take at home–to give women the context
we wished we had ourselves.” And Shady Grove
Fertility Clinic, a network of East Coast clinics, promises
that its ovarian reserve test, which costs $325 without full or
partial insurance, means “no more guessing.”

The study, published
this week in the scientific journal JAMA, followed 750 women
between ages 30 and 44 for up to a year. They didn’t have a
history of infertility, and had been trying to conceive for
three months or less. Researchers analyzed their blood and
urine for hormones commonly used to measure ovarian reserve —
AMH, FSH, and inhibin B — and followed the women for up to a
year. Women who had biomarkers that indicated diminished
ovarian reserve weren’t less likely to conceive, the
researchers found, compared to those with normal-seeming

“These tests are a great measures of ovarian reserve, how many
eggs you have, but they don’t work to predict a woman’s
reproductive potential,” Anne Zweifel Steiner, an author of the
study and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told Vox.

This isn’t the only study to question the accuracy of these
tests. A 2015 paper also
found that AMH levels didn’t correlate with predicting

Still, companies contacted by BuzzFeed News defended their
tests that screen for AMH and FSH, and confirmed that they
would keep selling them. They also pointed out that the tests
take into account other factors, including age, to give women
an understanding of their fertility.

Eric Widra, Shady Grove’s medical director, noted that the JAMA
paper studied women without a history of infertility. It also
did not address IVF. But “decades of research have demonstrated
that ovarian reserve is the best predictor, other than age, for
treatment outcomes IN PATIENTS WITH INFERTILITY,” he wrote to
BuzzFeed News. Shady Grove provides services like in vitro
fertilization and embryo-freezing to women and couples who have
trouble conceiving naturally.

Asked for research that supported its ovarian reserve test, a
Shady Grove doctor, through a spokesperson, cited a 2010 study that found
that the FSH hormone was one of several factors that predicted
if a woman could get pregnant after doing IVF. The doctor also
cited a study
from more than a decade ago that found that ovarian reserve
tests had a “modest-to-poor” ability to predict whether women
could get pregnant in IVF, and “are therefore far from suitable
for relevant clinical use.”

The San Francisco startups that sell ovarian reserve tests say
their tests aren’t necessarily just for women struggling to
conceive; instead, they’re meant for women who want a general
picture of their fertility over time and aren’t necessarily
trying to start a family right away.

“We’re reviewing this new study with our clinical advisors and
trying to access the raw data in order to further analyze the
findings,” Afton Vechery, cofounder of Modern Fertility, said
over email. “The vast majority of research in the field has
repeatedly shown that these biomarkers provide a better picture
of future fertility than just a woman’s age.”

Vechery pointed to a 2008 study
that examined a much smaller group of women — 50 — than the one
in the JAMA study. It looked at their biomarkers before they
stopped having their periods, also known as menopause, and
during their transition into menopause. The study found that
low levels of the AMH hormone, and to a lesser extent higher
FSH levels, predicted when they would stop menstruating. The
study didn’t explicitly look at whether their hormonal levels
were linked to whether they got pregnant.

Lynn Westphal, Future Family’s medical adviser, said that she
agrees with the study’s findings that certain hormones aren’t
an absolute predictor of a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
Many factors determine that, she pointed out, including age.
But she said that the Fertility Age Test can still provide
useful information to women about their bodies, especially for
those who aren’t thinking about getting pregnant yet.

It “will help women approach potential future fertility issues
with those results in mind — instead of waiting to determine
those levels once a woman is already struggling to get pregnant
naturally or with fertility treatments,” she said in a

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