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Sperm 'radar' sorts the good from the bad

30 May 2017

By Shaoni Bhattacharya

Appeared in BioNews 902

A giant scanner has been successfully used to sort 'good' sperm from 'bad'.

The team at the University of Sheffield hope their technique might one day help develop diagnostic tests and treatments for male infertility.

'The fact we can detect differences in molecular composition between samples of "good" and "poor" sperm is really significant because it opens up the opportunity for us to develop a novel biomarker to help with diagnosis,' said Dr Steven Reynolds, corresponding author of the study published in Molecular Human Reproduction.

'Or it might one day allow us to design specific therapies for men with poor sperm that might help give them a boost,' he added.

Sperm samples prepared from healthy volunteers were placed into a ten-foot high magnetic resonance spectroscopy machine which worked to sort the sperm on the basis of their molecular make-up into those which were likely to be good swimmers (with high motility), and those which were not (low motility).

The technique is commonly used to scan soft body tissues as it does not affect living cells. It uses powerful magnets to create pulses, like radar, which bounce back from body tissues at different frequencies depending on their chemical compositions. These bounce-back signals can be used to create a molecular profile or image.

'The technique of magnetic resonance spectroscopy has been previously used to examine the molecular composition of many cells and tissues in other diseases such as cancer, but it has never previously been used to examine live sperm,' explained Professor Martyn Paley, one of the spermNMR study team at Sheffield. 'As such, these results are a world first.'

Professor Allan Pacey, his colleague, said: 'Most of the advanced techniques we have available to examine the molecules in sperm end up destroying them in the process by either adding stains or by breaking open their membranes to look at the contents... To potentially have a technique which can examine the molecular structure of sperm without damaging them is really exciting.'

Molecular Human Reproduction | 23 May 2017
The Daily Telegraph | 24 May 2017
University of Sheffield | 22 May 2017
Daily Mail | 24 May 2017
University of Sheffield | 


07 August 2017 - by Caroline Law 
While media reports regularly remind us of women's biological clocks and warn of the dangers of women leaving it 'too late' to have children, until recently little attention has been paid to the role of men in timing when to have children, and the effect of age on male fertility...

11 April 2016 - by Arit Udoh 
The ultraviolet-filtering ingredients in sunscreen products interfere with the normal function of human sperm when applied to a sperm-containing solution in the lab...
29 February 2016 - by Dr Rosie Gilchrist 
Certain aspects of mobile phone usage may be linked to abnormal sperm concentration, according to research...
23 February 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
Researchers have found that the rate of mutation in the sperm cells of teenagers is much higher than previously thought...
11 February 2013 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
Physical activity is strongly associated with men's sperm quality according to a study looking into the effects of TV viewing and exercise...

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Public Conference
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Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


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