Temperature Tips to Conception
Chris - Now most people have probably heard the claim that body temperature changes when women ovulate. But can this be actually used as an effective fertility aid? Well, there are a couple of scientists here in Cambridge. They are Doctors Oriane Chausiaux and Shamus Husheer and they're from a relatively new Cambridge-based start-up company. It's called Cambridge Temperature Concepts and they say that temperature can be used to do that and they've come up with a way to measure it. Welcome to both of you. Good to have you with us.
Guests - Hello, Chris.
Chris - Hello. So Oriane, let's talk to you first. If you could, just tell us what's the situation with temperature and the menstrual cycle? How does it change?
Oriane - So early in the cycle, a woman's temperature would be quite low but just after ovulation, her body will release an hormone thats called progesterone and that hormone has an effect on body temperature, it makes it rise and thats the - that rise of temperature - that we are detecting with our fertility monitor.
Chris - Why do you think the temperature changes in this way? Anyway, what's the benefit of that actually happening? Why should these hormones have those effects? Do we know?
Oriane - They have an effect on the blood vessels that are located near the skin and that is the reason why temperature changes. Now, I don't know if there's a benefit to it or not, but that's the situation.
Chris - Is that why when women are pregnant, they tend to get a glow. They get this sort of chloasma is the name, isn't it? They tend to get a sort of glowing face and also, the neck tends to be more red. I've heard this is because of enhanced blood flow.
Oriane - Yes. That's quite possible indeed.
Chris - So, when you say temperature is low or temperature is high, how high and how low are we talking?
Oriane - The difference between low and high can be as little as 0.3 of a degree...
Chris - Degrees C?
Oriane - Yeah, degrees C and can be as high as 1.5, depending on the woman.
Chris - And so, just talk us through the menstrual cycle then what's happening to various points and how you would go about using that to predict on the basis of temperature, what stage of the cycle the woman at?
Oriane - So if we take a textbook cycle, which is 28 days - obviously, that isn't the case for most people, but let's stick with that for now - and the first 14 days is when the temperature is low and that's when the body is getting some follicles ready for ovulation.
Chris - This is in the ovaries where you're maturing future eggs.
Oriane - Yes, that's the case and then one of the follicles, will be ready to release an egg and that's the time of ovulation. Just after ovulation occurs, the body will start secreting progesterone for the following 14 days and that will allow the body to get ready for potentially fertilized egg to implant and that would be the start of pregnancy.
Now, if pregnancy doesn't occur, temperature will go low again because progesterone will drop at the time of the period.
Chris - And so your proposal is that, if you measure body temperature very accurately, you could potentially predict when that ovulation is. Why is it helpful to know that?
Oriane - So the highest chance to get pregnant for a couple are the days around ovulation and most couples don't know when that happens. And so allowing them to have that information increases their chance of conception by about three times so that's what we found that's very useful to provide them with that information.
Chris - Now, you've used what you called a very artificial menstrual cycle 28 days. You said most people are, I mean, most women are a little bit longer than that, aren't they? But what about many women who have irregular periods?
Oriane - Yes.
Chris - Does the temperature work there?
Oriane - It would. You have some information that you can use, some patterns that are specific. It happens just before ovulation. You some time have a little dip of temperature just before hand. But it's quite specific woman to woman so the monitor that we've designed, the DuoFertility monitor, will actually learn from the temperature patterns from a specific woman and use that cycle after cycle to help her find out when she's most fertile.
Chris - So, basically, what you're doing is you're building up a profile of that person's temperature and how it probably relates to their fertile window. So that with the machine learning, you learn from experience and you can now begin give information to that person about when it's probably a good time.
Oriane - That's completely correct. The other advantage we have is the device connects to the internet and so the data of one cycle can be compared to the one of all the other users who is using the product, which increase the accuracy by a lot.
Chris - Wow, you can actually sum data from a very big population of users to extract trends. So, actually, this is not just a sort of personal tool for the users. It's actually a research tool as well in that respect.
Oriane - Yeah, completely.
Chris - So the company is learning.
Oriane - We are.
Chris - How many people are taking part? It seems like a good time to ask Shamus because you're actually the guy who - you did a lot of the engineering on this.
Shamus - Yeah. I'm the inventor of the little sensor that collects all the data. To answer your question, we did a trial throughout the EU of about a 100 couples between December and May of this year. That gave us our, sort of, initial database of ovulation cycles to look at and there are several hundred units in the field right now collecting data and calling back home and depositing that data with us.
Chris - What do people say, how do people react to the fact that you're basically logging their menstrual cycles? I mean, obviously, it's an interesting thing and they can probably see the benefit for others. But do people feel a little bit tetchy about the fact that their own personal body rhythms are being beamed off over the internet to your company?
Shamus - To be honest, we haven't had that single person being concerned about that because one of the key benefits is that that data can be flagged up, if there's anything unusual going on. And our in-house fertility experts can look up that data and then come back to them with a question say, "Were you ill last Tuesday?" Or if not then, you know, this is the peak of your cycle in most way. Perhaps you could talk to your doctor about this interesting feature.
Chris - That's interesting. So if they get swine flu, which many people probably are, you're probably going to record that as well, aren't you?
Shamus - We haven't built alghorhythms to detect swine flu due to a dearth of data on our database for swine flu but in the event that we have thousands of people calling saying that's what they've got then, in theory we could develop ourselves if it's a swine flu detecter on the back of it.
Chris - But if someone does have a feverish -a fever-related illness anything that causes the temperature to go up, that presumably is going to mask an effect that you would be able to see that month.
Shamus - It changes the temperature but it changes in a very different way than ovulation does. When you get a fever, the change tends to be very rapid and very much greater than the change due to menstruation. And of course, it doesn't happen around the same time as the other indicators that we're looking for, suggesting that ovulation might, unless you're incredibly unlucky and you get a fever on the day of ovulation. So it's usually very easy to spot the difference between some other sources of temperature change.
Chris - So there's basically a thermal fingerprint or a thermal profile that goes with ovulation and you can dissect that out with the other background thermal data that you're recovering so you can still be relatively accurate no matter what.
Shamus - That is the essentially the heart of the algorithms that we run. Yeah.
Chris - Now, this is the first time today I've seen your unit and I have to say this is amazing. I'll just describe this to the people at home. If you imagine a mouse that you could operate on your computer with, it's about palm size and there are two colours, pink and blue. I presume they don't actually discriminate between the sexes.
Shamus - We've actually found that people seem to prefer, actually, the non-gender specific colours of white, lavender and green.
Chris - This is accompanied by a tiny thing which - it looks like a miniature bath plug but it would be about a half the size of the bath plug. What actually is this?
Shamus - It's about 25 millimetres wide and 5 millimetres thick. It's the sensor itself. Now that's worn under the arm and worn with an adhesive to keep it there continuously. What that device does is it measures temperature very, very precisely. It actually got two temperature sensors inside, across a non-thermal barrier.
What that allows us to do is measure not only the temperature but the heat flow. So if you're under the blankets in bed and it's warm on your skin surface that would be a different heat flow than if the blankets weren't there. The amount of heat leaving your body would be different. That allows us to measure the core temperature very well while you're sleeping. It also contains a movement detector so that we can tell when you're sleeping compared to when you're awake because you really want -
Chris - Presumably, the accuracy and the precision of measurement during sleep is much less variable and therefore, well, the temperature is less variable therefore your measurements are more accurate.
Shamus - And the physiological thing that you're trying to measure is the deep sleep temperature. So what we're doing is automatically detecting when you're asleep when your body's in a good thermal environment and then making corrections for all the external changes that could be going on so we can get a good handle on what's going on internally.
Chris - And how does the tiny sensor tell the mouse size based station which is presumably the thing that then collects all data.
Shamus - Yeah. So -
Chris - How do you talk to each other?
Shamus - What you've got is - the device has a single button and little track wheel sort of like a little consumer electronic devices, iPods and things we have today. What you do is you simply turn the device on by holding down your middle button, hold that down and will then start looking for the sensor. You bring it close to the device and it reads out the data.
Chris - It's a radio link...
Shamus - So it's a wireless radio link and so it doesn't emit any radio while it's being worn. The radio link is actually from the handheld radio to the sensor. What that does is it downloads all of that data and performs statistical analysis on it in the background.
Chris - So how do I then see that data?
Shamus - So after it's finished reading out, it will give you a display, indicating your fertile days for the prediction in advance. So it has a one indicator that says that what's today's level is and the brightness of each day segment tells you how likely you are to conceive. Now that takes into account both the male factors for the couple which may change the likelihood of conception before ovulation and female factors, which may change the likelihood of conception after ovulation.
Chris - And how does the data get to you? Because obviously this is not a computer, this is a handheld device. How does it connect to the internet to tell you about the temperature profile?
Shamus - Yeah. So in the side of the device, you'll spot a small USB connection like you have in cameras and things like that. You plug that into your PC. And then it looks as though that the world like a flash disk. Like one of those little USB thumb drives. That contains some PC software that you can run, which will show you a historical display of all of your data and your future prediction for up to six days in advance, which is what the monitor displays as well. Most importantly it will then connect to our servers over the web, transfer that data and allow us to perform a correlation between your data and as we say, all the other women using the system.
So we find those women with similar cycle pattern to yours. If you have a very stable cycle, there will be a group of women there that share a very stable, similar cycles to you. If you have a condition like say, polycystic ovarian syndrome which is about one-third of women who have infertility difficulties or very irregular cycles, it will find other woman with similar hormonal responses to ovulation to the size of that temperature change and cycling variability. And we'll bundle up those people that are similar to you and use that information to improve the predictions on the reader for you, put you in particular.
Chris - Thank you, Shamus. And just quickly Oriane, this has obviously been on the market now for a little while, what is the data look like? Is it successful? Is it working?
Oriane - The data is quite successful so far. And early on, especially during the trial we had a couple who had great problems, infertility problems and we have been able to help quite a few of them to increase their understanding of their cycle and a few of them managed to get pregnant as well in a short period of time so we're very pleased with that.
Chris - Thank you very much to both of you.