Scientists at the UK's Birmingham University have developed a fertility test kit that can be bought over-the-counter at chemists and used by couples at home. The Fertell test, which will cost about £80, takes less than an hour to work and is said to give accurate results in nearly all cases.
The test has a component for both a man and a woman to use. Women will be able to take a urine-based hormone test to check the likelihood of them becoming pregnant. But the more novel part of the test kit is that which tests a man's sperm count and sperm activity. Men would put a semen sample into a specially designed pot, where the sperm would be forced to swim through a chemical barrier that acts like a woman's cervix. A measurement of the sperm that are active once the barrier has been passed is then taken. The test kit shows a red line if the sample contains more than 10 million active sperm per millilitre. During the development of the test kit the scientists analysed more than 3000 samples from 150 men, and the results were accurate 95 per cent of the time.
The scientists who developed the kit hope that it will encourage people to assess their fertility if they are having problems conceiving, particularly those who would find it embarrassing to go to the doctor. They also hope that medical diagnoses based on results from the test might help to reduce waiting times for fertility treatments, especially if doctors will 'fast-track' couples who have used the test. Professor Chris Barratt, the scientist who led the research into the test, said that many couples are currently 'advised to wait for about a year before seeking medical attention'. He added that 'age can have a very significant negative impact on fertility, so having reliable information at an early stage can be a huge advantage'. However, the makers of the test kit point out that it cannot diagnose all fertility problems.
Doctors and other scientists have welcomed the test, but have cautioned that it is only the first step in identifying any problems and that couples should still seek medical help if the test showed a positive result but they continued to have problems conceiving. Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer at Sheffield University and secretary of the British Fertility Society, said that the kit was 'a neat device which actually examines how well sperm perform under 'test conditions' rather than just counting them and seeing how well they move'. He added that this is 'arguably more sophisticated' than the tests used in many hospitals. But he said that men using the test should remember that 'one failed test isn't necessarily going to doom you to male infertility for the rest of your life'.