Scientists have come up with a home sperm count and quality testing device that clips onto a smartphone. The device has proven to be accurate 98 per cent of the time, a rate that’s on par with lab-conducted analysis.
Researchers with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School created the device and accompanying app which can measure both sperm concentration and motility, an advance over many other home sperm kits which often only provide a sperm count. The device involves a plastic card which contains a microfluidic platform that performs the analysis. The card is dipped into a given semen sample and, pressing a small rubber bulb on the card, the user draws the sample up through an inlet on the card to the microfluidic platform. From there, the card is inserted into an optical attachment connected to the smartphone to provide the reading.
To show the ease of use, researchers recruited ten volunteers with no formal training to operate the sperm testers and found that the volunteers correctly operated the device and correctly classified over 100 semen samples using the app.
Sperm quality is normally tested by either manual microscope-based method, which is time-consuming, or through computer-assisted semen analysis (CASA), which requires highly trained technicians to properly operate. The advantage of the new device is that it not only can be used by practically anyone with a smartphone (and a semen sample, that is), the results on both sperm concentration and motility are consistently on target. In total, the study looked at 350 semen samples and correctly identified those with either low sperm counts or sperm with low motility with a 98 per cent accuracy.
“The accuracy of this approach was very similar to that of computer-assisted laboratory analysis, even when it was performed by untrained users with no clinical background, demonstrating its potential for use at home and in low-resource settings,” say the study’s authors, whose research is published in the journal Science – Translational Medicine.
“Fertility is a big problem. … Men are embarrassed to go to their urologist for infertility testing,” said Dr. Hadi Shafiee, assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and study lead. “This is going to be the first fully automated device to make infertility testing as simple as home pregnancy tests for women,” he told CNN.
Over the past few years, a variety of home sperm testing kits have come on the market. The YO Home Sperm Test from Medical Electronic Systems offers a smartphone-powered platform and “interactive app experience” and measures sperm concentration. As well, a Danish company called Motility Count has reportedly developed a home kit (not integrated with a smartphone) which produces results for both concentration and motility.
A 2012 study found that up to 16 per cent of Canadian couples are experiencing infertility, a rate which is near double that of two decades earlier. Male infertility is said to be the cause of couple infertility in about half of cases. Since 1972, Canada’s fertility rate has remained below the population replacement level of about 2.1 children per woman.
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