Sperm ‘obstacle course’ created by scientists to select healthiest ones for IVF

Device allows medics in fertility clinics to choose the best swimmers in order to help couples conceive

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Thursday 04 January 2018 17:16 GMT
Computational Model of SPARTAN Sperm-Sorting Device

Scientists have made an obstacle course for sperm that allows them to choose the fastest and healthiest swimmers.

The technique could help them select the best sperm for in vitro fertilisation (IVF), therefore increasing couples’ chances of conceiving.

The device, known as Spartan, consists of a tiny field of posts that sperm cells must swim through.

Once they have emerged at the end of the 14 millimetre obstacle course, the fastest sperm are collected to be used in the IVF process.

“With Spartan, we not only get sperm with excellent motility, but also with normal morphology and better DNA integrity, helping families worldwide by reducing the stress of multiple IVF procedures, while potentially increasing pregnancy rates.” said Professor Erkan Tüzel, a biomedical engineer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who co-led the work.

“This could increase patients’ chances of getting pregnant.”

The work by Professor Tüzel and his colleagues at Stanford University documenting the use of their device has been published in the journal Advanced Science.

Spartan – short for Simple Periodic ARray for Trapping And IsolatioN – is an improvement on traditional sperm-sorting techniques that only select for the fastest swimmers.

The device also allows for selection of the healthiest sperm – that is, those lacking defects such as bent necks or oversized heads, which impede their movement.

It also avoids the kind of damage that is sometimes inflicted on sperm using traditional techniques, and can be used with ease by medics in fertility clinics.

The sorting procedure can be completed in a clinic in no more than half an hour.

IVF can be an expensive process, with a single round costing up to £5,000 in the UK.

As success rates are only around 20-35 per cent per cycle, many couples require multiple cycles to successfully conceive.

Improved sperm sorting technologies such as the Spartan device could decrease costs for women who wish to become pregnant, as if better sperm are selected from the outset, fewer cycles may be required.

The device is intended for commercial release in July 2018, pending approval by the US Food and Drug Administration.

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