Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.
Low sperm count and motility are markers for male infertility, a condition that is actually a neglected health issue worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have developed a very low cost device that can attach to a cell phone and provides a quick and easy semen analysis. The device is still under development, but a study of the machine’s capabilities concludes that it is just as accurate as the elaborate high cost computer-assisted semen analysis machines costing tens of thousands of dollars in measuring sperm concentration, sperm motility, total sperm count and total motile cells.
The Harvard team isn’t the first to develop an at-home fertility test for men, but they are the first to be able to determine sperm concentration as well as motility. The scientists compared the smart phone sperm tracker to current lab equipment by analyzing the same semen samples side by side. They analyzed over 350 semen samples of both infertile and fertile men. The smart phone system was able to identify abnormal sperm samples with 98 percent accuracy. The results of the study were published in the journal named Science Translational Medicine.
The device uses an optical attachment for magnification and a disposable microchip for handling the semen sample. With two lenses that require no manual focusing and an inexpensive battery, it slides onto the smart phone’s camera. Total cost for manufacturing the equipment: $4.45, including $3.59 for the optical attachment and 86 cents for the disposable micro-fluidic chip that contains the semen sample.
The software of the app is designed with a simple interface that guides the user through the test with onscreen prompts. After the sample is inserted, the app can photograph it, create a video and report the results in less than five seconds. The test results are stored on the phone so that semen quality can be monitored over time. The device is under consideration for approval from the Food and Drug Administration within the next two years.
With this device at home, a man can avoid the embarrassment and stress of providing a sample in a doctor’s clinic. The device could also be useful for men who get vasectomies, who are supposed to return to the urologist for semen analysis twice in the six months after the procedure. Compliance is typically poor, but with this device, a man could perform his own semen analysis at home and email the result to the urologist. This will make sperm analysis available in the privacy of our home and as easy as a home pregnancy test or blood sugar test.
The device costs about $5 to make in the lab and can be made available in the market at lower than $50 initially. This low cost could help provide much-needed infertility care in developing or underdeveloped nations, which often lack the resources for currently available diagnostics.