Reliable Home Fertility Test in Sight

Feb 16, 2010 by Wiebe van der Veen

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new 'fertility chip', developed by researchers at the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology (The Netherlands), can accurately count spermatozoa in sperm. This is an important step towards the development of a compact device for reliable ‘pre-scanning’ of male fertility. The researchers are publishing the invention of the chip in the scientific journal Lab on a Chip.

Every year more than 10,000 couples in the Netherlands apply for help because of involuntary childlessness. A sperm analysis is typically the first step of fertility research. Testing sperm quality requires stringent pre-test preparations and a specialized laboratory. Tests often have to be repeated two to five times for sufficient reliability. If men can carry out the tests in the privacy of their own home this makes the procedure much less awkward for them. Moreover, the probability of a reliable diagnosis is increased as well. Finally, the researchers think that the costs for health insurers can be decreased too.

The chip developed by researcher Loes Segerink can accurately count spermatozoa. Concentration is an important indication of the sperm count: the norm for fertility is 20 million spermatozoa per millilitre of ejaculate. Simple home tests are available, but these can only indicate that the sperm count is 'above or below the norm'. These tests are too limited because they do not actually measure the concentration of spermatozoa.

On the new chip, the spermatozoa flow through a fluid channel, above which electrodes are fitted. When a cell flows under this 'bridge', its electrical resistance changes momentarily, and this event is counted. It is important that the count distinguishes between spermatozoa and other particles or cells in the fluid: if other particles are included the count will be unreliable. Segerink added minuscule balls to the fluid to test its selectivity. The method proved to be selective enough to distinguish between the balls and the spermatozoa. White blood cells were also distinguished by the chip. The number of white blood cells tells us something about sperm quality and so this is important additional information for the gynaecologist.

Concentration is not the only indicator of sperm quality. Spontaneous activity - also known as motility - and the shape of the are also important factors. Further research will need to establish whether these two quality characteristics can be measured in a similar manner, so that a compact device can be developed in which a chip can be inserted for single use. The user will only be able to see that the test has been completed successfully; the gynaecologist will inform him of the actual results personally.

Loes Segerink developed the 'fertility chip' in Prof. Albert van den Berg's BIOS research group. This group is part of the University of Twente's MESA+ Institute for . The research is financed by Technology Foundation STW.

Explore further: Celebrating 100 years of crystallography

More information: The publication 'On-chip determination of spermatozoa concentration using electrical impedance measurements' by Loes Segerink, Ad Sprenkels, Paul ter Braak, Istvan Vermes and Albert van den Berg, has been published online in the form of an Advance Publication, and will appear in the scientific journal Lab on a Chip in the near future.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Chip simulates metabolism of medicine in human body

Apr 24, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A tiny electrochemical cell, developed by researchers of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology, The Netherlands, is able to mimick the behaviour of medicine inside a human body. This chip ...

Male painters exposed to fertility damaging chemicals

May 23, 2008

Men working as painters and decorators who are exposed to glycol ethers are more likely to have poor semen quality, according to research carried out by scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester.

Researchers identify regulator of human sperm cells

Feb 04, 2010

UCSF researchers have identified an elusive molecular regulator that controls the ability of human sperm to reach and fertilize the egg, a finding that has implications on both treating male infertility and preventing pregnancy.

Beef may cause lower sperm count

Mar 28, 2007

A study has revealed that women who eat beef regularly during pregnancy are more likely to produce sperm-deprived sons.

Recommended for you

The fluorescent fingerprint of plastics

14 hours ago

LMU researchers have developed a new process which will greatly simplify the process of sorting plastics in recycling plants. The method enables automated identification of polymers, facilitating rapid separation ...

Water and sunlight the formula for sustainable fuel

18 hours ago

An Australian National University (ANU) team has successfully replicated one of the crucial steps in photosynthesis, opening the way for biological systems powered by sunlight which could manufacture hydrogen ...

Rice chemist wins 'Nobel Prize of Cyprus'

18 hours ago

Rice University organic chemist K.C. Nicolaou has earned three prestigious international honors, including the Nemitsas Prize, the highest honor a Cypriot scientist can receive and one of the most prestigious ...

Researchers create engineered energy absorbing material

19 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Materials like solid gels and porous foams are used for padding and cushioning, but each has its own advantages and limitations. Gels are effective as padding but are relatively heavy; gel performance ...

User comments : 0