Can ‘sperm races’ help IVF succeed?

Perhaps, according to a presentation at the American Physical Society March Meeting in March. A microchip device that pits sperm racing against one another is being developed by Afrouz Ataei from Florida Atlantic University and may help to improve IVF success rates in the future.

“An integral part of in vitro clinical procedures is the isolation of motile and morphologically normal viable sperm from the semen,” said Ataei, who explained that this step increases the chances of successful egg fertilization in plastic dishes outside the body (in vitro).

However, the conventional method used to sort the speediest sperm involves centrifugation and several high-speed, spinning steps, which can damage the delicate DNA encased within a sperm’s head. And an egg fertilized with sperm damaged in this manner is unlikely to progress to a viable embryo for implantation into the womb.

Ataei’s device manages to select the faster swimmers without any damaging steps. Her device exploits the observation that sperm swim against an opposing flow of liquid at certain flow rates. The microchip is designed to generate liquid flow without the use of other equipment. “No other devices generate the flow in this way, and our device is much easier to use,” said Ataei. “We found that at a specific flow rate, we get the most motile sperm with highest motility. I think this device has potential for clinical use.”

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