Dec 12, 2022 - Podcasts

Fertility testing goes virtual

Imagine doing a full-scale fertility evaluation from the privacy of your own home that even includes an at-home transvaginal ultrasound. That's the idea behind one company that's part of a new wave of startups hoping to modernize the fertility industry, making it more accessible and affordable to more people.

  • Plus, the Democratic party wins in rural America.
  • And, understanding the "Greenland block": Why a new atmospheric pattern above Greenland could mean more snow on the East Coast this winter.

Guests: Axios' Erin Brodwin, Josh Kraushaar and Andrew Freedman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, December 12th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: Democratic party wins in rural America. Plus, why the atmosphere above Greenland could mean more snow on the East Coast this winter. But first, fertility companies going virtual. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Imagine doing a full-scale fertility evaluation, from the privacy of your own home - even including an at-home transvaginal ultrasound. That's the idea behind one company that’s part of a new wave of startups in the fertility industry.

Axios Pro Health Tech reporter Erin Brodwin has been reporting this out – Welcome to Axios Today, Erin!

ERIN BRODWIN: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Why are these companies trying to bring this to people's homes? What problems are they aiming to solve here?

ERIN: I would say that the fertility and infertility market has for a very long time been highly, highly manual, very difficult, very expensive people having to drive long distances to go and get a fertility workup. And all these companies are trying to take little pieces of that really complex puzzle and make it easier for people. They're trying to make it more affordable. They're trying to make it so that you don't have to drive an hour and a half to try and get to a fertility provider or spend thousands of dollars on testing.

NIALA: Erin, can you tell us about this approach by the fertility startup Turtle health?

ERIN: Basically what this company does is they take a whole piece of the at-home fertility puzzle that dozens of companies have tried or have products on the market doing, and they're combining them. So you can do a full semen analysis and test, blood work and you can actually do a transvaginal ultrasound on yourself, to take a look at what's going on inside.

NIALA: How do doctors feel about these startups in this space?

ERIN: That is the perennial question, I think. Doctors are really, really slow movers in the healthcare field. But, I think that they are starting to take some notice and some interest in these companies. I talked to a number of providers actually as part of the reporting that I did on Turtle. The folks at the Mayo Clinic that I talked to said that they, like me, were very skeptical at first, but when they saw the results, published in a peer review journal, they were kind of blown away by the results. It seems like patients not only prefer this and rate the experience of it much higher, but also, scientific validity of what they're seeing is on par with in-person transvaginal ultrasounds.

NIALA: How do patients feel about these new companies?

ERIN: Yeah, I mean, I definitely can't hope to speak for all patients. But as a patient myself, I think that people are seeing this as very exciting. I think for the first time, there are options. So really fertility services were often reserved for the 1%. And I think what these startups are trying to do, and I'm not gonna say that they're, they're yet, but I think they're trying to make it for the rest of us to be able to try and actually, get these services. And, to get the services before it's too late. Because oftentimes people don't realize that they might have a fertility issue until they're actively trying to conceive. And as a patient myself, I was told early on that oh, you don't have to worry about any of these things until you're actually trying to start a family. And by then you come in and a lot of times practitioners are like, oh, you waited too long.

NIALA: So Erin, how far away are we from this becoming a reality for many Americans?

ERIN: Speaking of Turtle specifically, they're actually in the process of enrolling patients in a really large clinical trial. And that's what will ultimately determine whether and when this test can be available to more people. Right now you can go to Turtle's website and you can buy it, and it's between $300 and $500, depending on which kinds of tests you need and want. But next to the part about the transvaginal ultrasound, you'll see a little asterisk that says, by the way, this is still experimental, and won't be complete until we've finished this clinical trial, which hopefully will be done in the next couple of years.

NIALA: So what are you watching for next in this space then?

ERIN: I mean, it sounds so cliche, but seeing a company like Turtle is kind of the last shoe that I was waiting to drop. Because as I said it really does bring together all these little separate pieces. And so I think what remains to be seen is all the other companies in this space also putting out their own strong base of evidence and leading with the science as well. Because as these companies start to compete, ultimately I think the ones that will win are the ones that win with evidence.

NIALA: We'll link out to Erin's reporting that will be in our show notes. She writes for the Axios Pro newsletter Health Tech Deals. Thanks Erin.

ERIN: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: In a moment, a Midterms post-mortem on how Democrats fared in rural America.


Democratic party wins in rural America

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Democratic candidates did better in rural America in the midterms than President Biden did in 2020, but worse than the party performed in 2018. That's according to analysis done by the centrist Democratic think tank, Third Way. Axios’ Josh Kraushaar has been diving into the data and is here with the details.

So, Josh, tell us the headline. This analysis was done on 10 states in 16 races.

JOSH KRAUSHAAR: Yeah, the big governor's races, the big senate races that we all paid attention to throughout the midterm elections. And look, the headline is pretty good news for Democrats in that they won more, in many of the races, not all of the races, but in most of the big Senate and governor's races, Democrats outperformed Joe Biden. That's the good news. Democrats won a lot of these close Senate races from the Senate contest in Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman did best. The bad news though is that Joe Biden only won 33% of the rural vote in 2020, it was an all-time low, at least a historic low for the Democratic Party. So there was nowhere to go but up in many cases. And, the other worrisome news, I think, for Democrats is that in some of the biggest races featuring African-American nominees, including in Georgia, where Raphael Warnock just scored a, a historic victory. Those candidates did worse in the rural parts of the state, even relative to Biden in 2020.

NIALA: You mentioned Fetterman, Pennsylvania was definitely one of the party's top rural success stories. How did that happen?

JOSH: John Fetterman, spent a lot of time campaigning in these small counties that Democrats lately had not spent a lot of time in. And there were a lot of skeptics that someone with his health challenges, throughout the campaign and someone who was a pretty progressive lieutenant governor would be able to make those inroads. Overall, his improvement relative to Biden was most notable in the rural parts of Pennsylvania. So, you asked what did he do? Just talking to voters that don't get talked to by, they don't, they don't see Democrats campaign with them at events. That clearly made a difference. And it's clear as day in these, data that we're looking at.

NIALA: Josh, we can't talk about Democrats and not mention Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to now become an Independent. What does that mean for Democrats and the Senate going forward?

JOSH: So in the short term, Niala, it doesn't have a huge difference. Democrats are still gonna maintain their Senate majority. They're still gonna maintain their majority on these committees. But I think the bigger and more significant consequence of her move comes in the 2024 Senate races where Democrats are gonna have to protect that narrow majority. It also means that Democrats are gonna have to decide whether they want to nominate another Democrat to be the actual Democrat. Ruben Gallego is an up-and-coming congressman who might fit that category, he's shown a lot of interest.

So I think the best way of reading Senator Sinema's move early on in, at the end of 2022 is to say, hey, Democrats come and get me. She's basically daring the Democratic party. She's daring the White House to try to oppose her. Because ultimately if they try to recruit another Democrat into the race, it could divide the Democratic party and help hand that big Senate race to a Republican.

NIALA: Josh Kraushaar is a senior political correspondent for Axios. Thanks Josh.

JOSH: Thanks Niala.

Why a new atmospheric pattern above Greenland could mean more snow on the East Coast this winter

NIALA: I am tired of this dark, cold weather here in DC. I hope it’s sunnier where you are. This winter, you might be hearing more about a powerful weather pattern called the “Greenland Block” - which may mean extreme weather, not just in Greenland, but here in the U.S. I asked Axios’ Climate and Weather Reporter Andrew Freedman to explain what it is.

ANDREW FREEDMAN: The Greenland block is like a giant stoplight in the atmosphere. It's essentially a large area of high pressure and multiple layers of the atmosphere that reroutes weather traffic. Going across the Atlantic from west to east. Now, the reason this is getting attention right now is because the setup over the North Atlantic and over Greenland is very similar to the setup that we saw in the winter of 2009 and 2010, when the East Coast, particularly Washington, DC was pummeled by multiple blizzards, that does not mean that that's gonna be the outcome again.

It does mean that the odds of East Coast snowstorms will increase later in December and potentially thereafter. Usually extreme patterns lead to some extreme consequences. We just don't know exactly what those are going to be, and meteorologists are watching this closely.

NIALA: Andrew Freedman covers climate and weather for Axios.

That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Join Tyler Foggatt and her colleagues as they go beyond the headlines and deepen your understanding of the forces shaping our world today on “The Political Scene,” a podcast from The New Yorker. With episodes three times a week, “The Political Scene” accesses the sharpest minds in politics for insight and analysis about everything, from abortion rights to the war in Ukraine. Make sure you’re following “The Political Scene," available now wherever you get your podcasts.

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