A sperm test that could help thousands of men who are infertile has been developed by UK and US scientists, according to The Times.
The first clinical trials of the procedure, which aims to select fertile sperm, could begin next year after a research team was awarded a £120,000 grant to develop the technology by the pharmaceutical company Merck Serono.
The test identifies unhealthy sperm by tagging them with a protein dye that binds to damaged DNA. The healthy sperm can then be selected and injected into a woman's eggs using an IVF method called ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).
This new technique has been developed by Dr Dagan Wells from the University of Oxford, UK, and Professor George Pieczenik from Rutgers University in the US. Dr Wells said: 'Sperm with fragmented DNA are hard to tell apart under the microscope, but we've developed a protein that labels fragmented DNA'.
'We think it enables us to see which sperm have genetic damage and which ones don't. The idea is to pick out the ones without the stain to use for ICSI'.
Some men are infertile because their sperm has genetic damage, which prevents them from fertilising eggs. Picking out the healthy sperm and using ICSI increases the chance of fertilisation compared to standard IVF.
The test is comparatively cheap and would add about £100 to the cost of ICSI that generally costs £3,500 to £4,500.
After screening the dye for toxicity, the next step will be to apply to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for permission to start testing the procedure during fertility treatment. Dr Wells said: 'I would hope we could be ready for clinical trials within the next year'.
Dr Allan Pacey, a senior lecturer in andrology at Sheffield University commented: 'This is the sort of thing we've been looking for, but we need to see patient data before we can judge'.