Since the birth control pill was first introduced in the 1960s, millions of women have used hormonal contraceptives to gain a new measure of control over their reproductive health. Unfortunately, however, it can be difficult for women to find a hormonal contraceptive that doesn’t come with unpleasant side effects like nausea, weight gain and anxiety. In some cases, women may have to try several different birth control pills before they find one that works for them.
This is because different birth control pills use different combinations of hormones to prevent pregnancies.
Some pills rely on a combination of estrogen and progesterone, for example, while others only use progesterone. The varying chemical makeups of birth control pills can have markedly different side effects in different women, and until recently there’s been no reliable way to predict which type of hormonal contraceptive will work best for an individual.
In the UK, a medical technology startup called Pexxi is using genetic testing and artificial intelligence (AI) to help women find hormonal contraceptives that complement their unique biological profiles.
“Our core belief is that everyone has a different hormonal baseline, but more importantly no one actually has any idea what their baseline is,” says Pexxi founder and CEO Shardi Nahavandi. “Once you understand that, you understand what risks you carry.”
Pexxi begins by using a chatbot to conduct a personal assessment of each patient. This chatbot asks a series of questions which are designed to identify common risk factors and red flags that might rule out certain types of birth control. Then, patients can order an at-home genetic and hormonal testing kit from Pexxi to assess their natural levels of progesterone and estrogen. Finally, a machine learning algorithm is used to map the test results onto an index of hormonal contraceptives, offering women recommendations based on which birth control pill will be least likely to trigger unpleasant side effects and complications.
Pexxi also offers ongoing monitoring services to help women tracking the effects of the pill over time. If changes in their health affect their response to one type of birth control pill, Pexxi can offer alternative suggestions as well. The program is currently in the beta testing stage of development, but Pexxi hopes to bring its AI-powered hormonal testing service to women throughout the UK and beyond in the near future.