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Sperm 'obstacle course' could improve IVF success

08 January 2018

By Dr Rachel Brown

Appeared in BioNews 932

An 'obstacle device' has been developed by scientists in the United States which can select the fastest and healthiest sperm to use in assisted reproductive techniques.

The device - termed Spartan (Simple Periodic Array for Trapping And isolation) - was inspired by the natural filter-like capabilities of the female reproductive tract and developed by a team of researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Stanford University.

Sperm are injected into one end of the 14 millimetre long device, and must swim through numerous three-dimensional pillars to the other end. 

About 99 percent of the sperm that make it through the device are motile and the simple technique also avoids the type of damage that can occur with traditional sperm sorting methods, such high-force centrifuges. It is hoped that by selecting the healthiest sperm, patients undergoing ART will have a better chance of conceiving. 

Professor Erkan Tüzel, a biomedical engineer at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute who led the work as said: 'With Spartan, we not only get sperm with excellent motility, but also with normal morphology and better DNA integrity, helping families worldwide by reducing the stress of multiple IVF procedures, while potentially increasing pregnancy rates.'

Spartan is a simple one-step procedure and takes around 10 minutes to perform, meaning it is also easier to use in the clinic compared to current options and does not require sperm to frozen and shipped to another lab for processing.

The authors have noted, however, that the device is currently only able to recover a small number of sperm. While it is suitable for techniques such as ICSI which only need a single sperm, additional modifications will need to be made to make it suitable for other techniques that require a larger number of sperm such as intrauterine insemination.

The technology was published in the journal Advanced Science. It has since been licensed to the American company DxNow, which plans to make the product commercially available in July 2018 pending approval by the US Food and Drugs Administration.  

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