Want to count your sperm accurately? There’s a smartphone App for that

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A new device that attaches to a smartphone can detect whether a man's sperm concentration or motility is abnormal with 98 percent accuracy. Semen sample analyzed by the device. M.K. Kanakasabapathy et al., Science Translational Medicine (2017)

A new smartphone app and a device has been developed that is able to measure a man’s sperm count and quality and let him know his level of fertility with up to 98% accuracy, in a matter of minutes whether he suffers from infertility, an Indian scientist and a team of US researchers said on Wednesday (March 22). So now men would no longer be required to visit specialist clinics, they may soon be able to determine their own sperm quality level, plus concentration and motility and their total sperm count at home, using a smartphone app, just like those pregnancy kits available in the market.

Developers say that the inexpensive device – which currently does not have a name and the new technology — consisting of a disposable microchip designed to hold a sample of semen. And then the microfluidic chip gets inserted into a smartphone external attachment, and an app uses the phone’s camera and processor to determine the amount of sperm in semen and how many of them are actually swimming (Two factors that affect fertility: sperm concentration and motility). The software has a user-friendly interface that guides the user through each step of testing (six-step process). The results can be stored on the phone for monitoring over time.

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The 3D-printed device incorporates a white light LED, two aspheric lenses, a battery and other electronic components. The new technology would be as fast, easy and private as supermarket pregnancy tests, and the scientists hope it will be available in the next few years.

The recent study conducted by Manoj Kumar Kanakasabapathy, who has made the smartphone-based optical device and also the first author of the paper and Hadi Shafiee, a professor of engineering in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. The research team’s finding was published on March 22 in the latest issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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The smartphone-based semen analyzer tests for male infertility in seconds from the privacy of home with a 3D-printed setup costing less than $5, which can analyze most semen samples in less than 5 seconds. Photo Courtesy:- Vignesh Natarajan

Hadi Shafiee, leader of the research team at Harvard Medical School, said: “We wanted to come up with a solution to make male infertility testing as simple and affordable as home pregnancy tests.”

In 2010, all over the world, more than 45 million couples (about 15% of all couples worldwide) were estimated to be infertile and in almost half of those cases, the problem lies with the man. Men are estimated to be solely responsible for up to 30% and to contribute to up to 50% of cases overall, according to one study. An estimated one in six couples struggle with fertility issues, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

In tests looking at more than 350 semen specimens from the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Centre, the smartphone system was shown to identify abnormal sperm samples with an accuracy rate of about 98 per cent. That rate is based on World Health Organization (WHO) criteria for an abnormal sperm sample, in which there are less than 15 million sperm cells per millilitre of fluid, and less than 40 percent of sperm are motile.

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The test is an inexpensive smartphone attachment that quickly and accurately evaluates semen samples for fertility testing. Photo Credit:- [M.K. Kanakasabapathy et al., Science Translational Medicine (2017)]
The sensitivity of the test, or the ability to correctly diagnose abnormal semen samples, was 99.3%; the specificity, or the ability to correctly detect normal samples, was 89.4%.

John Petrozza, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center and a study co-author, described the device as a “true game-changer”. “Men have to provide semen samples in these rooms at a hospital, a situation in which they often experience stress, embarrassment, pessimism and disappointment,” he said.

“Current clinical tests are lab-based, time-consuming and subjective. This test is low-cost, quantitative, highly accurate and can analyse a video of an undiluted, unwashed semen sample in less than five seconds,” John Petrozza told the Guardian.

It costs around $4.45 to produce and requires no formal training to read.