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Breakthrough Male Infertility Test Predicts IVF Success

Posted Jun 06 2011 12:00am
A new male infertility test that quickly and inexpensively detects damaged DNA in sperm may help save couples time and money when it comes to infertility treatments.

The technological breakthrough, called the SpermComet, can actually look at each individual sperm to determine whether or not the DNA has been damaged.

“Good quality sperm DNA is closely associated with getting pregnant and having a healthy baby,” said Professor Sheena Lewis, developer of the new test and head of the Reproductive Medicine research group at Queen's University Belfast. “The SpermComet Test is the most sensitive test available for sperm DNA testing.”

Nearly 1 in every 6 couples suffers from infertility and of those 30% to 40% of cases are due to male infertility factors.

“Until now, there have been few accurate ways of measuring a man’s fertility. Traditionally, the diagnosis of male infertility has relied on semen analysis. This provides the basic information on which fertility specialists base their initial diagnosis,” explains Lewis. “However, its clinical value in predicting male fertility or success with infertility treatment is limited, particularly if the semen analysis results are normal.”

In a standard abnormal semen analysis several different things are measured including the amount of sperm produced along with their shape and how well they move. The problem with this study is that it cannot determine exactly how healthy these sperm really are. Damaged DNA in sperm may lead to trouble with conception or repeat miscarriages.

The new test uses chemicals and electrical fields to separate out the tightly coiled DNA in the sperm so they can be clearly evaluated. Under the microscope, damaged sperm looks just like a comet, the reason for its namesake.

The results of the SpermComet test are presented in percentages and recommendations are given for infertility treatment. For example, men with a score of less than 25% have no detectable DNA problems. Those with 29% to 49% have a high probability of success with in vitro fertilization (IVF), but those with more than 40 % have a high likelihood for IVF failure.

Infertility experts hope that this test will help both clinicians and couples to better identify which infertility treatments to use and avoid wasting time and money on treatments that would not likely be successful. “We have found a way to fast-track couples to the best treatment for them, to save them time and money,” says Lewis.

Currently the test is only available in select UK fertility clinics and costs approximately $975. The average  IVF cost the US is over $10,000.
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