Fertility Chip for Men Measures Sperm Concentration and Sperm Motility
The invention of a fertility chip for men that measures both sperm concentration and sperm motility is the topic of a doctoral dissertation by Loes Segerink, a researcher at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Sperm concentration and motility are the two most important factors toward diagnosing male infertility. The fertility chip is expected to be available in the near future as a single-use home fertility kit for men that will provide them with an accurate number and relative indicator of the health of their sperm.
Infertility due to a low sperm concentration and decreased sperm motility accounts for a significant number of infertility cases. Approximately 50 percent of the time, infertility for couples is due to the male partner with 20-30 percent of the cases attributed to a poor sperm count and /or sperm that do not swim vigorously enough to travel the relatively long path to a receptive egg in the fallopian tubes.
The condition for a clinical diagnosis of infertility is typically met when a couple hasn't conceived a child after 12 months of unprotected and frequent sex. Some medical doctors prefer to label this condition as “Impaired Fertility” due to the fact that a significant number of first-year infertile couples wind up with a pregnancy in their second year of trying.
When a couple goes to their doctor with suspected infertility, sperm and semen analysis is the quickest and easiest test to rule out male infertility as the cause. Sperm and semen analysis involves a sample of fresh seminal fluid from the male where the sperm are assessed for number, shape, motility and other factors.
Typically, the higher the sperm concentration, the more fertile a man is. However, a man with a low sperm concentration can be fertile in spite of a low sperm count. Low sperm concentration is indicated by a sperm number that falls below 20 million sperm per milliliter of ejaculate.
Some sperm have abnormally shaped “heads” that may interfere with motility and/or indicate the presence of faulty sperm. A lack of male hormones or decreased levels of male hormones can account for a low sperm count or abnormal sperm; however, in many cases, it’s not a matter of whether the man’s testes are producing enough sperm, but whether the sperm are getting to where they need to go.
Low Sperm Concentration
Some of the reasons for a low sperm count in ejaculate are due to:
• An obstruction in the "plumbing" between the testicles and the penis. Varicocoeles— an abnormal formation of veins above the testes —are responsible for approximately 38% of the cases of low sperm counts and is correctable through surgery.
• Retrograde ejaculation where sperm–containing ejaculate is directed backwards into the bladder.
• Absence of the vas deferens—the main pipeline for sperm transport from the testes to the urethra.
• Anti-sperm antibodies that attack a man's own sperm—sometimes the result of a vasectomy that is followed by a reverse vasectomy.
• Idiopathic infertility—a low sperm count resulting from unidentifiable reasons.
When male infertility is not due to a lack of sperm, a number of tests are performed to determine the ability of a man’s sperm to physically and chemically fertilize an egg. A listing of some of the tests is as follows:
• Hemizona assay: A laboratory test that determines if the sperm can penetrate the outermost protective layer of an egg.
• Acrosome reaction: A laboratory test that determines whether a sperm’s head undergoes the required chemical changes needed to dissolve an egg’s outer shell.
• Sperm agglutination: A laboratory test which examines whether the sperm are clumping together and thereby physically prevented from traveling through the cervical mucus to the fallopian tubes.
• Hypo-osmotic swelling: A laboratory test that uses a special sugar and salt solution to evaluate a sperm’s tail.
Fertility Chip Research
However, while the aforementioned tests are restricted to clinical testing and monitoring by a physician, home tests that provide a rough measure of sperm concentration are available. The problem with these tests has been that they only assess sperm number, but not general sperm health as indicated by sperm motility.
In the University of Twente, Netherlands doctoral dissertation research project, the fertility chip created by researcher Loes Segerink is not only more accurate in determining the concentration of sperm in seminal fluid, but can also determine whether the sperm are mobile.
On the chip, a tiny drop of seminal fluid is inserted where the sperm then flow through a liquid-filled channel beneath electrode bridges. When sperm cells pass beneath one of the bridges, a brief fluctuation in electrical resistance is detected and counted. The total sperm count is assessed by the chip and then digitally relayed back to the tester. An adjustment of the chip also allows the chip to selectively count the percentage of sperm that are motile and presumably healthy compared to the percentage that are non-motile and therefore considered to be unhealthy.
The significance of this fertility chip is that it provides an improved male home fertility kit that is more accurate and measures not only sperm concentration but sperm motility as well. Production of the kit is expected in the near future.
Reference: AlphaGalileo Foundation