New tool to test sperm and improve fertility success rates

January 25th, 2009 - 2:09 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 25 (IANS) A novel method, developed by scientists for testing the health of a sperm before it is used in IVF, boosts chances of conception.University of Edinburgh researchers have created a way of tagging individual sperm quality, so that only healthy ones are used in fertilising an egg as part of IVF treatment.

IVF or in-vitro fertilisation is the basic assisted reproduction technique, in which the man’s sperm and the woman’s egg are combined in a lab and after fertilisation, the resulting embryo is then transferred to the woman’s uterus.

The sperm are captured in two highly focussed beams of laser light. Trapped in ‘optical tweezers’, an individual sperm’s DNA properties are identified by the pattern of the vibrations they emit in a process known as Raman spectroscopy.

This process is being used for the first time to evaluate DNA damage in sperm.

Existing methods to test sperm DNA quality cut off cells in half and tag them with fluorescent dye, which ends up rendering the sperm useless. This new process leaves them unharmed. So if it is found to have good DNA quality, it can still be used in IVF treatment.

Alistair Elfick, the project head, said: “In natural conception, the fittest and healthiest sperm are positively selected by the arduous journey they make to the egg.

What our technology does is to replace natural selection with a DNA based ‘quality score’. But this is not about designer babies. We can only tell if the sperm is strong and healthy not if it will produce a baby with blue eyes,” he said.

The research is currently in a pre-clinical phase, and if successful could be available to patients in the next five to 10 years, said a release of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which had funded the project.

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