A PhD student at the University of Twente in the Netherlands has developed an at-home fertility test for men which counts sperm and measures their motility.
While male DIY fertility tests are already commercially available, this new test claims 'to go one step further, delivering a much greater chance of accurate results, with more details on mobility and sperm concentration in a simple, inexpensive method'.
Loes Segerink, who defended her doctoral thesis on 4 November, says that in the single use 'fertility chip', sperm is flows through a liquid-filled channel, passing beneath electrode bridges. When cells pass beneath those bridges, it causes a brief fluctuation in the electrode's electrical resistance. By counting these events, the chip determines the number of sperm in the sample (one millilitre sample should contain at least 20 million sperm).
To examine the system's reliability, Segerink added microspheres - man-made microscopic particles – and found that the method could differentiate between sperm, white blood cells and the microspheres. White blood cells are an indicator of sperm quality and motility and thus play an additional important role in the test. By making a small adjustment, users can separate motile and non-motile sperm, and then count them separately. Sperm motility is important for male fertility as it is the ability of sperm to move properly towards the egg.
Segerink was awarded a grant from the Dutch Technology Foundation STW earlier this year and is in the process of setting up a company to commercialise her product. For this to happen the chip will need to incorporate a read-out device.
Although at-home testing could mean avoiding uncomfortable medical tests, the new developments raise some ethical issues, especially for a condition as potentially delicate as infertility. There are concerns of whether diagnosis without professional advice could do more harm than good.
The fertility chip was developed within the BIOS Lab-on-a-Chip research group in collaboration with the Twente Medical Spectrum and various companies, including PigGenetics, R&R Mechatronics and Lionex.