Four women have become pregnant by a new technique that can recover sperm in men who have been shown by traditional analysis to have no sperm. Perfected by Simon Fishel - director of the CARE clinic in Nottingham - initial trials of the new technique have succeeded in finding sperm in a quarter of these apparently sterile men.
The method, known as MERC (Multiple Ejaculate Resuspension and Centrifugation), involves putting a large amount of ejaculate into a centrifuger that spins at such high speeds it creates pressure of up to 5,000 times the force of gravity. This reduces the ejaculate to the equivalent volume of a fraction of a teardrop and since sperm is heavy it sinks to the bottom of the centrifuge. Over many weeks, sperm are separated from ejaculate in this way and frozen until there is enough to use in Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) which is used for treating couples where the man has a very low sperm count. This involves injecting sperm into eggs collected by normal in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
MERC is not available on the National Health Service. CARE charges £70 to process each ejaculate specimen and in addition a couple would have to pay the usual fee of about £2,500 per cycle of ICSI.