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A Magnetically controlled Mechanical Propeller for Immotile Sperm

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

Researchers from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences, IFW Dresden, Germany and Material Systems for Nanoelectronics, Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany have developed something known as the spermbot, a remotely controlled sperm movement controlling robot that could help create babies of the future. It is a magnetically powered robotic “suit” that can strap itself to individual sperm and help guide it faster towards the egg. According to the inventors all the initial tests with the spermbot have delivered promising results.

The purpose of the spermbot is to solve one of the widely talked about causes of infertility in men which is poor motility of sperm. Low sperm motility, or otherwise healthy sperm that just can’t swim, can be a big factor in infertility. While the development of the spermbot is in its early stages, this is already being talked about as a promising alternative to existing popular techniques that are expensive and come with a high failure rate. These include methods like in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. Only 30 percent of the traditional “spray-and-pray” approach ends up with success, which warranted the need for an alternative procedure like the spermbot. According to the report, initial experiments show a marked increase in the probability of the spermbot-assisted sperm to reach its intended destination. The process of fertilization can be completed inside the body or in the lab, inside a petri-dish.

The spermbot is a coat of microscopic metal polymers shaped into a helix. It can attach itself to the tail of the spermatozoid, and then, using a hybrid micromotor, it can help propel the sperm faster towards the egg. The direction the sperm needs to take is controlled using a rotating magnetic field. In fact, even the motion of the sperm can be remote-controlled by simply adjusting this magnetic field. Once the spermbot propels the sperm towards the egg and the sperm manages to implant itself into the egg, the bionic part of the spermbot detaches itself from the tail.

While the initial experiments look promising, there is still some way to go before the spermbot technique is regularly used. To start off, scientists have very few sample size to correctly evaluate the results, and unless more comprehensive tests are carried out, it would not be possible to start using them on human subjects. Another major stumbling block is that there is currently no way to film the spermbot in action while it is moving inside the body. This also means that doctors would not be able to correctly direct it towards the egg. Another concern is the response of the body’s own immune system to the spermbot. The use of the spermbot could trigger a reaction from the body’s immune system, the results of which cannot be predicted without comprehensive clinical trials. The idea of the spermbot looks promising right now, but it is still too early to call it a replacement to the tried and tested methods like in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. In fact, it would take a few years for the procedure to be made available to patients if clinical trials are successfully completed.

References:

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b04221

http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2016/acs-presspac-january-13-2016/spermbots-could-help-women-trying-to-conceive-video.html

http://www.inquisitr.com/2711435/spermbot-robot-sperm-infertility-treatment/#utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+google%2FyDYq+%28The+Inquisitr+-+News%29

http://www.slate.com/articles/video/video/2016/01/spermbot_attached_to_sperm_and_delivers_it_quickly_to_an_egg_video.html

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/01/video-motorized-spermbot-helps-sperm-reach-egg

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