IVF genetic testing

Male fertility: the truth is in the tail

In scientific news, researchers have devised a way of analyzing sperm by tracking the movement of the sperm tail.

It’s believed the technique will enable substantial improvements to male fertility testing.

Until now, analysing sperm health has been mostly about counting the number of sperm produced.

Developed by a team at the University of Birmingham, the technique measures the speed and action of the sperm flagellum, or tail. This provides information about whether sperm have the potential to reach and fertilise an egg.

The technique has been developed by a University of Birmingham team led by Professor Dave Smith in the School of Mathematics, in partnership with the University’s Centre for Human Reproductive Science.

“We have all heard of ‘sperm count’, and indeed the tools available to understand sperm – manual counting with a microscope – have not changed much since the 1950s,” explains Professor Smith.

“However, think of the amount of technology – camera, computing, connectivity – that we all now have access to. This project is about harnessing these 21st century technologies to address male fertility problems.”

Meurig Gallagher, lead author of the study, says that the sperm journey is an incredibly challenging task.

“They must travel distances of several thousand times their own body length through the female reproductive tract in search of an egg.

“This journey whittles a population of many million cells down to under a hundred.

“The flagellum is responsible for propulsion and navigation, so it’s really vital that we understand what success looks like – how a healthy tail moves and how it consumes energy.”

The team have developed a software package called FAST (flagellar capture and sperm tracking), which uses a combination of rapid, high-throughput digital imaging, mathematics and fluid dynamics to detect and track sperm in samples

The research team hopes the improved understanding will help other researchers and clinicians develop new interventions to tackle male fertility problems.