When will sperm succeed? A new test may find out

Researchers have discovered a way to determine if a couple should skip less-invasive treatments and go straight to assisted reproductive technology (ART), in which eggs are combined with sperm in the laboratory to achieve fertilization. A new test can detect sperm that lack critical genetic elements that increase chances of fertility.

The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, analyzes ribonucleic acid (RNA), a molecule that helps code, decode and produce genetic information. Sperm- cell RNA plays an important role in the fertilization and early development of the embryo.

The researchers discovered that most infertile men did not carry a complete set of sperm RNA elements, which reduced the success rate of natural pregnancy from 73 percent to 27 percent. The more RNA elements missing from the sperm cell, the lower the likelihood of conception.

“The absence of one or more of these RNA elements was indicative of those who would be successful by ART, which is a more invasive technique, versus those who would be successful by timed intercourse or intrauterine insemination, which is less invasive,” said study lead author Stephen Krawetz, Ph.D., associate director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

“When we took those same individuals and went to assisted reproductive technologies, their rate of fertilization and live birth approached that of the group that was successful by the relatively non-invasive techniques,” he said.

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