A simple test that offers fertility hope to the childless

Last Updated : 07 June 2011, 16:48 IST
Last Updated : 07 June 2011, 16:48 IST

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Developed by researchers at the Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland, the test takes a closer look at a man's sperm and allows prospective parents to be fast-tracked to the treatment that is most likely to succeed.

This, the researchers said, could spare the couples the financial and emotional strain of repeated unsuccessful attempts at IVF.

Several tests have been launched to help women in recent years but the 'SpermComet' kit is one of the first to help men desperate to become fathers, they claimed.

"The SpermComet is the only test available that can help clinics to tailor treatment specifically to the man's needs, bringing hope to millions of couples throughout the globe," Panos Lioulias of Queens University Belfast was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

According to the researchers, most fertility clinics judge the quality of a man's sperm simply by looking at its shape, speed and concentration under the microscope.

But the SpermComet test, developed by Professor Sheena Lewis, checks for tiny tears and breaks in sperm’s DNA.

Sperm with damage to their genetic material are less likely to make a woman pregnant and if a woman does conceive, she is more likely to miscarry.

The test uses chemicals to "relax" the tightly coiled strands of DNA in each individual sperm and then uses an electric field to separate them out.

Intact DNA bunches together and shines brightly, like the head of a comet, while broken material fans out and gives off a weaker glow.

By looking at the length of the tail of damaged DNA, the scientists can tell how badly affected a man's sperm is.

Those couples deemed to be facing trouble are then advised to move straight to more complex fertility treatments, such as IVF, or for those whose sperm is in the worst shape, ICSI, where the sperm is injected directly into the egg.

While pregnancy is not guaranteed, its odds should be boosted, said Professor Lewis, an expert on male reproduction at the university.

She believes DNA damage is to blame in many of these cases and her test could help.
SpermComet costs around 600 pounds, but could save a couple thousands in IVF treatment, said Professor Lewis.

She said: "We have found a way to fast-track couples to the best treatment for them, to save them time and money.

"These couples are really hurting and if we can help save them  from some of the heartache and  set them on the way to having a family faster, then that’s what we want to do."

Published 07 June 2011, 15:14 IST

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