UL researchers develop technology for selection of best quality sperm for use in human reproduction techniques

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Glucksman Library extension, University of Limerick. . Pic Sean Curtin True Media.

Researchers at University of Limerick have developed exciting new technology for the selection of best quality sperm for use in assisted human reproduction.

With an estimated one in six couples experiencing infertility problems, the microfluidics technology now developed at UL, could offer hope to those experiencing issues with being able to start a family.

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Working with fertility clinics, the UL team have demonstrated that the selected sperm have significantly better DNA integrity than that selected by currently used methods.

The solution provides for sorting and selecting the highest grade, lowest DNA fragmented sperm, in a simple and fully traceable process.

“Women whose male partners have poor sperm DNA integrity are twice as likely to have a miscarriage and therefore by selecting only sperm with intact DNA the risk of miscarriage can be significantly reduced,” explained Dr Sean Fair, Reproductive Biologist, who is leading the research.

The start-up company behind the technology, neoMimix, has been announced as a winner of the EIT Health Headstart competition for 2020, a prestigious competition supporting the most innovative European start-ups.

The award will help accelerate their market launch through a €40,000 cash prize.

The company used funding secured from Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund to develop the technology.

“Infertility problems have been driven by increasing maternal age as well as by the halving of sperm counts over the last 40 years,” explained Dr Fair.

“The most common fertility treatment couples undergo is in vitro fertilisation (IVF), and despite major advances in IVF over the last 40 years, two out of three cycles fail, resulting in financial and emotional pain for couples,” Dr Fair said.

“While little can be done to improve the number or quality of women’s eggs, men normally produce tens of millions of sperm yet only one is required to fertilise an egg. Despite the large number of sperm produced by men, very few are normal,” he added.

The UL technology uses microfluidics to mimic the journey sperm would travel in the female reproductive tract, thereby selecting the fittest and most functional sperm, which can then be used in IVF to improve outcomes.

“Sperm naturally swim up the female reproductive tract on their way to meet the egg in the fallopian tube and en route they must swim against an outward flow of mucus that is secreted around the time of ovulation. This means that only the fittest sperm reach the egg,” he continued.

“The fittest sperm are selected for use in fertility treatment.”

“It is the result of over five years of painstaking work by the UL team as they have optimised the architecture of the micro-device and fluid flow profiles to ensure that only the best quality sperm are selected. The team are now working on further clinical validation of the technology after which regulatory approval will be sought,” he added.