Research identifies sperm biomarker associated with couples’ pregnancy probability

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have identified a single-measure biomarker in sperm mitochondrial DNA that may predict male reproductive health and pregnancy success.

The discovery applies not just to couples seeking care for infertility but also for the general population. This biomarker could become a more accurate predictor of male infertility than semen parameters, on which health care organizations and clinicians have long relied.

“Clinically, the diagnosis of male infertility really hasn’t changed in decades,” says UMass Amherst environmental epigeneticist Richard Pilsner, corresponding author of the study published in the journal Human Reproduction. “In the last 10 to 20 years, there have been major advances in the understanding of the molecular and cellular functions of sperm, but the clinical diagnosis hasn’t changed or caught up.”

Mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited, and sperm mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNAcn) typically decreases eight-to-10 fold during spermatogenesis to ensure that it is low upon fertilization. The researchers accessed sperm samples from 501 couples from Michigan and Texas from 2005 to 2009 and found that men with higher sperm mtDNAcn had as much as 50% lower odds of cycle-specific pregnancy and 18% lower probability of pregnancy within 12 months.

“Remarkably, we saw a strong inverse association between sperm mitochondrial biomarkers and couples’ time-to-pregnancy,” Pilsner says. “Understanding what is causing the retention of mitochondrial copy number during spermatogenesis will help us come up with better platforms to intervene and to promote better reproductive success,” Pilsner says.

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Women could conceive after ovarian tumors, study shows

Women receiving fertility-sparing surgery for treatment of borderline ovarian tumors were able to have children, a study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published in Fertility & Sterility shows. Natural fertility was preserved in most of them and only a small proportion required assisted reproductive treatment such as in vitro fertilization. Survival in the group was also as high as in women who had undergone radical surgical for treatment of similar tumors.

“The ability to become pregnant seems to be preserved with fertility-sparing surgery, a knowledge that is absolutely critical for the advice and treatment given to young women with ovarian borderline tumors,” says the study’s first author Gry Johansen, doctoral student at the Department of Oncology-Pathology, Karolinska Institutet.

The study is based on data from Sweden’s healthcare registers. Of the 213 women who underwent surgery between 2008 and 2015 in Sweden, 23% had given birth to 62 babies after treatment. A minority — 20 women or 9% of the cohort — had undergone IVF. The survival rate for the entire cohort of 277 women was an excellent 99%, and there was no difference between those who had received FSS and those who had undergone radical surgical cancer treatment.

“In the choice of treatment for borderline ovarian tumors, safety and the effectiveness for future childbearing must be taken into account,” says the study’s last author Kenny Rodriguez-Wallberg, researcher at the Department of Oncology-Pathology, Karolinska Institutet.

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Family building for gay men

At RSCNJ, we offer a full range of services for LGBTQIA+ individuals and couples–including gay men seeking to have a child.

Fertility testing. Similar to lesbian couples, gay male couples generally do not seek fertility treatment due to an infertility diagnosis. Most of the time, they are interested in the services of a reproductive clinic due to the complex process of utilizing their own sperm, an egg donor and a gestational carrier.

Much like that of heterosexual family planning, we still recommend male fertility testing before moving forwarded with assisted reproductive treatments and procedures. The evaluations performed during fertility tests will ensure that a man’s reproductive organs are functioning properly (creating sperm) and that there is no indication of male infertility. These tests also evaluate a man’s sperm to ensure that it is viable to fertilize a woman’s egg for pregnancy.

Fertility treatment. Male couples have a number of options when it comes to conceiving, and they will work with a doctor to determine the best next steps. Since an egg is a necessary part of pregnancy, gay couples will need to use donated eggs, either by someone they know or obtained through an egg donor agency or an egg bank.

From there, a couple can determine if one or both partners would like to contribute their sperm to the pregnancy. One (or both) of the partners’ sperm will be used during IVF to fertilize the egg(s) of an egg donor to create an embryo. The embryo will then be implanted into the uterus of a gestational carrier to carry out the pregnancy.

To learn more about our LGBTQIA+ fertility services, please visit our web site.

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How an egg cell’s ‘operating manual’ sets the stage for fertility

Recently published work from Carnegie Institution for Science has revealed the genetic instructions immature egg cells go through step by step as they mature into functionality. The findings improve our understanding of how ovaries maintain a female’s fertility.

The general outline of how immature egg cells are assisted by specific ovarian helper cells starting even before a female is born is well understood. But researchers mapped the gene activity of thousands of immature egg cells and helper cells to learn how the stage is set for fertility later in life.

Even before birth, “germ” cells assemble a finite number of cell clusters called follicles in a female’s ovaries. Follicles consist of an immature egg cell and some “helper” cells, which guide the egg through its maturation process. It is from a follicle that a mature egg cell bursts during ovulation.

Understanding what it takes for follicles to form and develop successfully, helps us learn how damaged genes or adverse environmental factors, including a poor diet, can interfere with fertility, the researchers explained. Their research was published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Study reveals psychological impact of COVID-19 on fertility patients

The suspension of fertility treatments due to the COVID-19 pandemic has had a variety of psychological impacts on women whose treatments were cancelled, but there are several protective factors that can be fostered to help in the future, according to a new study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

In the study, researchers used online social media advertising to recruit 92 women from Canada and the U.S. who reported having their fertility treatments suspended to participate in an online survey. The women, who were aged between 20 and 45, had been trying to conceive for between 5 and 180 months. More than half had had an IVF cycle cancelled and approximately one-third had been in the middle of IUI when treatments were suspended.

“This study highlights how enormously challenging the COVID-19 pandemic has been for women whose fertility treatments have been suspended. At the same time, it points to certain factors that may help women cope during this difficult time, such as having good social support,” the authors state.

If you would like more information on coping or a list of mental health providers who specialize in infertility, please see one of our staff members at the Reproductive Science Center of New Jersey or visit our web page.

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Artificial intelligence helps select better embryos for implantation

For many people who are struggling to conceive, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) can offer a life-changing solution. But the average success rate for IVF is only about 30 percent.

Investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital are developing an artificial intelligence system with the goal of improving IVF success by helping embryologists objectively select embryos most likely to result in a healthy birth.

Using thousands of embryo image examples and deep-learning artificial intelligence (AI), the team developed a system that was able to differentiate and identify embryos with the highest potential for success significantly better than 15 experienced embryologists from five different fertility centers across the United States. Results of their study are published in eLife.

We believe that these systems will benefit clinical embryologists and patients,” said corresponding author Hadi Shafiee, PhD, of the Division of Engineering in Medicine at the Brigham. “A major challenge in the field is deciding on the embryos that need to be transferred during IVF. Our system has tremendous potential to improve clinical decision making and access to care.”

The authors note that in its current stage, this system is intended to act only as an assistive tool for embryologists to make judgments during embryo selection. “Our approach has shown the potential of AI systems to be used in aiding embryologists to select the embryo with the highest implantation potential, especially amongst high-quality embryos,” said Manoj Kumar Kanakasabapathy, one of the co-lead authors.

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New podcast: What to expect in the evaluation of male infertility

In a new podcast, infertility specialist Dr. Alan Martinez discusses the evaluation of male infertility and what to expect.

“As far as male infertility, it is one of the three overall categories that we check when we evaluate and undergo an infertility evaluation,” he says. Up to one third of cases of couples having issues with conceiving may be due to male factor infertility, he adds.

Listen to the podcast below.

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Study on placenta development could aid IVF treatments

The first stages of placental development take place days before the embryo starts to form in human pregnancies, a new study reveals. The finding highlights the importance of healthy placental development in pregnancy, and could lead to future improvements in fertility treatments such as IVF, and a better understanding of placental-related diseases in pregnancy.

In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers looked at the biological pathways active in human embryos during their first few days of development to understand how cells acquire different fates and functions within the early embryo.

They observed that shortly after fertilization as cells start to divide, some cells start to stick together. This triggers a cascade of molecular events that initiate placental development. A subset of cells change shape, or “polarize,” and this drives the change into a placental progenitor cell — the precursor to a specialized placenta cell — that can be distinguished by differences in genes and proteins from other cells in the embryo.

“This study highlights the critical importance of the placenta for healthy human development,” said Dr. Kathy Niakan, group leader of the Human Embryo and Stem Cell Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute and Professor of Reproductive Physiology at the University of Cambridge, U.K., and senior author of the study.

During IVF, one of the most significant predictors of an embryo implanting in the womb is the appearance of placental progenitor cells under the microscope. If researchers could identify better markers of placental health or find ways to improve it, this could make a difference for people struggling to conceive.

“Understanding the process of early human development in the womb could provide us with insights that may lead to improvements in IVF success rates in the future. It could also allow us to understand early placental dysfunctions that can pose a risk to human health later in pregnancy,” said Niakan.

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Join RSCNJ in the fight against breast cancer

It is estimated that in 2020, approximately 276,480 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and close to 42,170 women will die from breast cancer.

According to, breast cancer mortality rates declined by 39% between 1989 and 2015 largely due to increased awareness of the disease and earlier screening and detection procedures.

You can also make a difference by signing up for this year’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Campaign, on Sunday, October 18. This year’s event includes a drive-thru version, Making (St)rides Rolling Pep-Rally

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Dr. Martinez talks about infertility, COVID-19 on Telemundo

Dr. Alan Martinez of RSCNJ recently appeared on the Telemundo Spanish language television network to explain how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted women seeking in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments.

He discusses how embryos are not affected by the coronavirus and that IVF is an essential medical service that fertility clinics can continue to offer in these times.

“Los embriones no se ven afectados por el coronavirus y que la FIV es un servicio esencial.” – Dr. Alan Martinez

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