New technique will help experts make heads or tails of male fertility

11 June 2019

A new way of analysing sperm that tracks the movement of the sperm tail could enable substantial improvements to male fertility testing. The technique measures the speed and action of the sperm flagellum, or tail, which provides vital information for understanding whether sperm in an ejaculate have the potential to reach and fertilise the egg.

It was developed by a University of Birmingham team led by Professor Dave Smith in the School of Mathematics, in partnership with the University’s Centre for Human Reproductive Science and is published today in the journal Human Reproduction.

Current methods of analysing sperm for male fertility have been restricted to either counting the number of sperm produced, or tracking the head of the cell and there is limited understanding of what a healthy swimming sperm looks like.

Using a combination of rapid, high-throughput digital imaging, mathematics and fluid dynamics to detect and track sperm in samples, the team have developed a free-to-use software package called FAST (flagellar capture and sperm tracking). They hope clinical research teams worldwide will start to use this to better understand how sperm motility relates to fertility.

This improved understanding will help researchers and clinicians develop new interventions to tackle male fertility problems. The work is funded by the EPSRC Rapid Sperm Capture Healthcare Technologies Challenge Award and the National Institute for Health Research.



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