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It evaluates sperm health in seconds with 98% accuracy, researchers say.

Julia Naftulin
March 24, 2017

An estimated one in six couples struggle with fertility issues, according to the American Pregnancy Association; and in about one-third of those cases, the problem lies with the man. But diagnosing male infertility can be a complex and expensive process.

Now, a promising new smartphone device may soon allow men to test the health of their sperm in seconds, without ever leaving home. It involves a disposable microchip designed to hold a sample of semen. The chip gets inserted into a smartphone attachment, and the app then uses the phone's camera to analyze two factors that affect fertility: sperm concentration and motility.

In a new study published in Science Translational Medicine, the technology was used to test 350 semen samples. It was able to determine whether the samples met World Health Organization standards for healthy sperm count and motility with an accuracy rate of about 98%.

“We wanted to come up with a solution to make male infertility testing as simple and affordable as home pregnancy tests,” said co-author Hadi Shafiee, PhD, a principal investigator in the division of engineering in medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, in a press release. 

The technology is still in the prototyping stage. Shafiee's team plans to do more testing to refine the app's accuracy. They also need to file for approval from the United States Food and Drug Association before they can bring the device to market.

But the researchers have high hopes. "The ability to bring point-of-care sperm testing to the consumer, or health facilities with limited resources, is a true game changer,” said John Petrozza, MD, a co-author of the study and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center, in the press release.