Researchers develop sperm-sorting design that may aid couples undergoing in vitro fertilization

May 23, 2013
Illustration of adding sperm samples into the microchannels of space-constrained microfluidic sorting (SCMS) system from the inlets. SCMS system with different channel lengths is assessed for sperm exhaustion and effective sperm sorting. Microchannels are prefilled with media prior to loading sperm. The outlet is then covered with mineral oil to avoid evaporation. Credit: BWH Bio-Acoustic Mems in Medicine Laboratory

(Medical Xpress)—According to the World Health Organization, approximately 70 million couples experience infertility worldwide. Current data suggests that nearly one third of infertility disorders are due to poor sperm quality. For couples undergoing in vitro fertilization, certain sperm characteristics, such as motility and stamina, are crucial when sorting and selecting sperm. However, selecting the fittest sperm can be a challenge.

Now researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) have developed a simple and cost-effective design for sperm sorting, in which healthy, motile sperm can be effectively separated by space-constrained microfluidic sorting chips.

The study was published online this month in the science and technology journal Small.

According to the researchers, the chip design was inspired by nature. In the female, sperm naturally must swim through the cervical mucus in the cervical canal to reach and fertilize an egg. The pathway that the sperm must swim is akin to a microfluidic channel, since sometimes mucus on the walls of the vagina become watery and form tiny microchannels that guide the sperm through to the egg.

Based on this naturally occurring phenomenon, the researchers developed a microfluidic design at the length and scale of channels in which sperm could successfully swim towards the egg.

"These bioinspired create tiny corridors for cells at the size scale comparable to their own allowing them to interact with their surroundings and each other," said Utkan Demirci, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and health sciences and technology at Harvard University Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, principal investigator for BWH Bio-Acoustic Mems in Medicine Laboratory, senior study author. "This enables applications, such as cell sorting, by controlling their ."

The researchers tested their design using human and mouse sperm—employing computational models to assess the movement of sperm as they navigated their way through various channel lengths.

Measuring the effects of exhaustion time of sperm, they found that mouse sperm had an average exhaustion time of 30 minutes during incubation. On the other hand, human sperm were at their highest motility for up to one hour of incubation when swimming in a 20 millimeter channel.

"These inexpensive devices sort sperm without any sample handling," said Demirci. "This has the potential to lead to unique and simple strategies for home-based sperm testing especially if we are able to integrate this with existing technologies such as cellular phones and cameras."

In terms of extending the technology's use beyond infertility treatment, Savas Tasoglu, PhD, BWH Bio-Acoustic Mems in Medicine Laboratory, the study's first author adds, "This technology can also be helpful to preserve of endangered species, where access to samples is challenging in the wildlife."

Explore further: Men with deep voice may be lacking in sperm: study

More information:

Related Stories

Men with deep voice may be lacking in sperm: study

January 9, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Women look for tall, dark and handsome. Those chiseled features and that deep sexy voice have gained the attention of women for generations. However, a new study published in PLoS ONE shows that those ...

Sperm length variation is not a good sign for fertility

November 13, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—A new study published online in the journal Human Reproduction finds that the greater the inconsistency in the length of sperm, particularly in the tail (flagellum), the lower the concentration of sperm ...

Recommended for you

Researchers grow retinal nerve cells in the lab

November 30, 2015

Johns Hopkins researchers have developed a method to efficiently turn human stem cells into retinal ganglion cells, the type of nerve cells located within the retina that transmit visual signals from the eye to the brain. ...

Shining light on microbial growth and death inside our guts

November 30, 2015

For the first time, scientists can accurately measure population growth rates of the microbes that live inside mammalian gastrointestinal tracts, according to a new method reported in Nature Communications by a team at the ...

Functional human liver cells grown in the lab

November 26, 2015

In new research appearing in the prestigious journal Nature Biotechnology, an international research team led by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem describes a new technique for growing human hepatocytes in the laboratory. ...

Gut microbes signal to the brain when they are full

November 24, 2015

Don't have room for dessert? The bacteria in your gut may be telling you something. Twenty minutes after a meal, gut microbes produce proteins that can suppress food intake in animals, reports a study published November 24 ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.