Researchers have developed a new technique to examine human sperm without killing them, helping to improve the diagnosis of fertility problems.
The researchers have devised a ‘sperm radar’ test which can discriminate between good and poor human sperm for IVF. New test may be able to make IVF treatment more effective by being selective with sperm.
The new technique approach uses a giant scanner, so big that it requires a step ladder to lower a sample inside, to examine the molecular structure of each sperm cell while keeping it alive.
The machine uses powerful magnets and works like radar by firing pulses of energy at the sperm and listening to the signal echoed by the molecules in response.
Unlike other more destructive examination methods, the low energy pulses do not damage sperm, meaning they could potentially go on to be used in IVF treatment.
Professor Martyn Paley, from the University’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, said: “The technique of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy has been previously used to examine the molecular composition of many cells and tissues in other diseases such as cancer, but it has never previously been used to examine live sperm. As such, these results are a world first.”
Professor Allan Pacey, fertility expert at the University of Sheffield, who was part of the sperm NMR study team, said: “Most of the advanced techniques we have available to examine the molecules in sperm end up destroying them in the process by either adding stains or by breaking open their membranes to look at the contents.”
Research Associate, Dr. Sarah Calvert from the sperm NMR team, said: “Washing the sperm in a centrifuge is a critical step for this technique to work as any contamination from seminal plasma can also be detected by the scanner. But by adding an extra spin cycle to the techniques that are commonly used in IVF we were able to minimize that contamination.”
Research Fellow Dr. Steven Reynolds explained: “The fact we can detect differences in molecular composition between samples of ‘good’ and ‘poor’ sperm is really significant because it opens up the opportunity for us to develop a novel biomarker to help with diagnosis.
The study was published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction.