New sperm analysis tool may help male fertility testing

A new way of analyzing sperm that tracks the movement of the sperm tail could enable substantial improvements to male fertility testing. The technique measures the speed and action of the sperm flagellum, or tail, which provides vital information for understanding whether sperm in an ejaculate have the potential to reach and fertilize the egg.

It was 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 and was published in the journal Human Reproduction.

Professor Smith explains: “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. 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.”

Using a combination of rapid, high-throughput digital imaging, mathematics and fluid dynamics to detect and track sperm in samples, the researchers developed a free-to-use software package called FAST (flagellar capture and sperm tracking). They hope clinical research teams worldwide will start to use this to better understand how sperm motility relates to fertility. This improved understanding will help researchers and clinicians develop new interventions to tackle male fertility problems.

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