If women have an at-home pregnancy kit, men can also measure their sperm count and motility now by using just a smartphone device and a chit that performs semen analysis.
The latest at-home test is believed to detect abnormal semen with 97 percent accuracy compared with traditional laboratory testing. Developed by Harvard researchers, it harnesses the power of a smartphone app with a 3D-printed optical attachment for logging a video of sample sperm cells.
Computer algorithms then analyze the video recording, counting the sperm and evaluating if they are fast swimmers.
“More than 45 million couples worldwide are affected by infertility, and more than 40 percent of these cases include some component of male infertility,” wrote the authors in the journal Science Translational Medicine. “It is estimated that, on a global scale, up to 12 percent of men [more than 30 million] will have fertility issues during their lifetime.”
How They Did It
The team made a 3D-printed case fitting onto their smartphones, namely Moto X, Moto G4, and LG G4 phones. The case contains an LED, a battery, a pair of lenses from a DVD and CD drive’s pick-up heads, as well as a dock for the disposable microchip, which features a small bulb that accommodates 35 microliters of semen sample.
The Android app takes one-second videos that contains 30 frames per second, processes every frame, and assesses sperm count and motility.
Using 350 fresh as well as preserved sperm samples, the team saw that 307 were abnormal ones. The test was correct about the classification of 303 of those abnormal samples.
The at-home male fertility test is unable to spot deformed sperm and may also miscount sperm if there is cellular matter that’s around the size of sperm in the sample, but the team is happy about their work and is eyeing better algorithms and upgraded hardware in the future.
“Its ability … can potentially shift the paradigm in male infertility management in both developed and developing countries,” they said.
Costs And Prospects
The test is relatively cheap at just $5 to manufacture the device and its accompanying chip, according to coauthor Hadi Shafiee, who estimated that consumers would have to pay less than $5 for the actual kit. The test does not require internet connection too.
The product is hoped to be used by men in developing nations, those who cannot afford lab testing, or those simply hesitant to undergo lab tests. Many clinical tests require the patient to produce a semen sample right in the lab and can be quite costly, as they maintain medical equipment, pay technicians, and rely on computer-assisted analysis.
The responsibility of testing for infertility too often falls on women as men can get embarrassed to go through fertility care, Shafiee added.
Copenhagen-based scientist Kristian Almstrup, who was not involved in the study, told Scientific American that this work is so far one of the most comprehensive to date among at-home tests.
But he warned that there can be sperm issues that go beyond numbers or motility. The authors themselves said that they are looking at also covering morphology or sperm shape in the future.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that couples in which both the male and female are obese may have about 55 to 59 percent greater difficulty getting pregnant compared to their non-obese counterparts. Obese men had notable decrease in testosterone levels and a higher prevalence of erectile dysfunction.
A study last February also cautioned men that strenuous exercise could potentially disrupt their sex drive. The team from University of North Carolina observed that men with more intense exercise programs may have a lower libido than those who have lighter workouts.