WASHINGTON - Scientists have developed a quick test —using a smartphone app — that a man can use in the privacy of his home to determine whether he is fertile. The sperm test could help millions of couples around the world that have tried unsuccessfully to conceive a child.
The new rapid, automated test can show within a matter of seconds whether the man's sperm count is too low to conceive or if there are problems with motility of the sperm so the reproductive cells have trouble fertilizing a female egg.
The fertility test is an inexpensive smartphone attachment that the scientists said is made of materials which cost around $4.50. It was developed by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in the U.S. state of Utah and at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
95 percent accurate
John Petrozza is director of Massachusetts General's fertility center, which used the sperm app to analyze 350 samples. The experimental test proved to be greater than 95 percent accurate in detecting problems with a man's sperm.
Petrozza said many women wonder why they have trouble getting pregnant after months or years of trying to conceive with their partner.
“Now we have something that can screen their partner and do it reliably. And if there's something there, they'll get them in to see the fertility doctor or gynecologists much sooner and I think that's always a good thing,” he said.
The test is designed to be used at home, rather than at a clinic, in a growing field of what is known as point of care medicine.
After placing a semen sample on a slide, the user inserts it into the attachment placed on the phone, using the device's optics to analyze the semen. The smartphone's powerful camera is able to take both still and moving pictures of the sperm sample.
Volunteers confirm simplicity
The app guides users through a series of simple steps for analyzing the semen. Total sperm count is measured by a miniaturized weight scale that transmits the information wirelessly to the phone.
Researchers gave the device to 10 untrained volunteers from the Boston clinic to confirm that it is simple to use. In that test, researchers say it correctly classified 100 semen samples for fertility.
The male fertility analyzer was described in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Others uses for app
Petrozza says the smartphone attachment could also be used as a follow-up test for men who've had vasectomies, voluntary operations to surgically interrupt a man's sperm flow for birth control.
At the same time, Petrozza envisions using the device to test for venereal diseases such as gonorrhea. And scientists are now trying to perfect the point-of-care device to test for Zika virus in sperm, which has been shown to be a reservoir for the pathogen.
An analysis of the semen's quality and concentration, said Petrozza, is based on parameters for fertility established by the World Health Organization.
He said the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has been in contact with the world body.
“And I know that recently they've worked with the World Health Organization in trying to look at global infertility and trying to see how can we can bring treatment, how can we bring diagnostic tests to resource-limited countries. And this could be a potential way to do semen analysis in a very cost-effective way,” said Petrozza.
Millions of couples struggle with fertility
An estimated 45 million couples around the world struggle with fertility. Forty percent of the time, say experts, infertility is due to abnormal sperm.
Petrozza and colleagues are aiming to get the male sperm analyzer on the market in the next 18 to 24 months, to be sold alongside pregnancy tests.
He says they're hoping to keep the cost of the device to anywhere from $30 to $45.