A new 'fertility chip', developed by researchers at the University of Twente's MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology, can accurately count spermatozoa in sperm. This is an important step towards the development of a compact device for reliable 'pre-scanning' of male fertility. The researchers are publishing the invention of the chip in the scientific journal Lab on a Chip.
Every year more than 10,000 couples in the Netherlands apply for help because of involuntary childlessness. A sperm analysis is typically the first step of fertility research. Testing sperm quality requires stringent pre-test preparations and a specialized laboratory. Tests often have to be repeated two to five times for sufficient reliability. If men can carry out the tests in the privacy of their own home this makes the procedure much less awkward for them. Moreover, the probability of a reliable diagnosis is increased as well. Finally, the researchers think that the costs for health insurers can be decreased too.
The chip developed by researcher Loes Segerink can accurately count spermatozoa. Concentration is an important indication of the sperm count: the norm for fertility is 20 million spermatozoa per millilitre of ejaculate. Simple home tests are available, but these can only indicate that the sperm count is 'above or below the norm'. These tests are too limited because they do not actually measure the concentration of spermatozoa.