Testing men’s fertility may soon be as easy as taking a home pregnancy-like test, thanks to researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
But rather than urinating on a stick, this test involves a smartphone and app that can identify sperm concentration, motility, total motile cell count and sperm count with a 98 per cent accuracy – all done in the comfort of one’s own home.
“When men go through the process of being tested they have a very awkward experience,”says Dr. Hadi Shafiee, a principal investigator in the division of engineering in medicine and renal division of medicine at BWH. “They have to go these hospital rooms and there’s so much pressure, stress and embarrassment … We wanted to close this clinical gap and develop a rapid, low-cost diagnostic that can be used at home and reduce some pressure on the couples.”
A few tools are needed to take the test: a smartphone with the app, an optical attachment to connect to the phone, a disposable kit (this is where the semen sample is loaded), a disposable microchip with a capillary tip and rubber bulb (used to handle the semen sample) and a miniature wireless weight scale that connects to the smartphone (which was developed by the team).
The man provides the sample on to the microchip, inserts it into the optical attachment and within seconds, the results of the test are revealed.
Shafiee says there are currently other products on the market that test for male fertility, however those tests only measure sperm count and physicians often don’t take the results of those tests into consideration.
“The ability to bring point-of-care sperm testing to the consumer, or health facilities with limited resources, is a true game-changer,” John Petrozza, co-author of the study and director of the MGH Fertility Center, says in a statement. “More than 40 per cent of infertile couples have difficulty conceiving due to sperm abnormalities and this development will provide faster and improved access to fertility care.”
It has taken two years for Shafiee and his team to develop the testing method. Right now it is in the protoyping stage but the next step, Shafiee says, is to bring it to the FDA for testing and approval. It is not yet known when it could hit store shelves.
According to the Government of Canada’s Healthy Living website, about 16 per cent of couples in Canada experience infertility (that’s doubled since the 1980s).
Three times out of 10, the cause of infertility is men, while two times out of 10 is a mix of factors from both the man and the woman.
Causes of male infertility may include poor sperm quality (their rate of movement and shape), low sperm count or lack of sperm, a history of sexually transmitted infections like Chlamydia and hormonal imbalances.