Philips nets 2nd Gates Foundation grant for AI-guided maternal ultrasound scans

Philips’ work to bring artificial-intelligence-powered ultrasound to pregnancy exams the world over has received another leg up from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, bringing its total grant funding up to $60 million.

The foundation previously delivered $15.4 million to the project in 2021. Since then, Philips has aimed to connect AI-guided assistance with its Lumify hand-held probe to allow its use by midwives who may have less experience compared to trained ultrasound technicians.

The company said it has demonstrated positive impacts in Kenya, where a pilot has helped triage pregnant women in rural and underserved communities. The new funding will help the program expand to additional countries—as well as support the technology’s eventual launch as a commercial offering.

“Ultrasound is the first tool of choice to scan pregnant women, but it also requires training to understand how to scan properly and correctly in order to make the right image interpretations,” Philips’ ultrasound general manager, Jeff Cohen, said in a statement.

“By supporting frontline healthcare workers such as midwives to identify potential problems in pregnancy at an early stage, we aim to significantly reduce the number of women who die because of pregnancy,” Cohen added.

Philips estimates that nearly 800 people internationally die each day from preventable causes related to childbirth.

The company aims to use AI to help simplify and automate key obstetrics measurements and capture the images used to help identify abnormalities during the earlier weeks of pregnancy—including high-risk factors such as gestational age and the location of the placenta. 

Philips also said its algorithms can help reduce ultrasound training times from weeks to hours, expanding the number of providers that can perform the fetal exams.

“A critical goal of our work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is to bring health technology to underserved areas of the world to help prevent women from dying in childbirth—an issue that is critical in high-income countries like the U.S. and U.K. as well,” said Rasa Izadnegahdar, the foundation’s director of maternal, newborn and child health discovery and tools.

The Gates Foundation has also backed AI-powered ultrasound projects related to technology developed by Caption Health—including both before and after it was acquired by GE HealthCare this year for $150 million. 

The grants, of $5 million and $44 million, respectively, have focused on developing software for AI-guided lung scans in young children with pneumonia, as well as in maternal and fetal health.