Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
A new technique that takes 3D film of moving sperm could help doctors select those sperm that have the best chance of fertilizing an egg and leading to a successful pregnancy in cases where couples are undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) fertility treatments. More from The Optical Society, the professional scientific organization that published the research in its journal:
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Now doctors may soon have a new technique to help them sort the good sperm cells from the less viable ones: a tracking system, developed by a team of researchers from four European institutions, that takes 3-D movies of living sperm. In addition to showing the sperm’s movement and behavior in real time, the novel method simultaneously provides detailed 3-D imaging of the sperm’s form and structure to detect potential infertility-causing anomalies, such as the “bent tail” that prevents the cells from swimming straight.
The researchers say this is the first technique for collecting data on sperm cell motility—a key predictor of IVF success—in three dimensions and over time. They describe their method in a paper published today in The Optical Society’s (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express.
Currently, sperm concentration and mobility in semen are assessed either by subjective visual evaluation or a process known as computer-assisted sperm analysis (CASA). While the latter provides more detail and fewer errors than the former, CASA still only allows tracking and imaging in two dimensions. In their new technique, the team of researchers from Italy and Belgium combined microscopy and holography—the creation of 3-D images—to visualize live sperm in not only two dimensions (the x and y positions) but according to their depth (z position) as well.
And, “by acquiring a video of the moving sperm in 3-D, we add a fourth dimension – time,” said lead author Giuseppe Di Caprio of the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems of the National Research Council (NRC) in Naples, Italy, and Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Friday, November 1st, 2013
A team of researchers from a number of top Boston medical institutions are working together on new research that could help the best sperm from a man’s sample travel better through fluid, increasing its chances of successfully finding and fertilizing a woman’s egg. The research, if successful, could increase the chances of success for couples who undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF). More from Boston.com:
Physicist Erkan Tuzel works in a field that seems just about as far removed as possible from delicate questions about human reproduction; his lab at Worcester Polytechnic Institute develops algorithms to describe the behavior of complex fluids. But after he heard a talk by Harvard Medical School bioengineer Utkan Demirci, who carves microscopically small channels and then allows fluids to flow through them, the two began to talk about collaborating. Their common ground? Designing technology that could cull the healthiest, fastest-moving sperm from the slowpokes.
Doctors trying to help couples reproduce through in vitro fertilization would like to have an easy way to identify and isolate the sperm most likely to result in a baby. Figuring out how to reliably do that, however, may have as much to do with physics as it does with biology.
In real-world experiments, sperm can swim through tiny channels created by Demirci at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Computer modeling by Tuzel could be used to understand how to design those channels so that they select the right sperm.
“Sperm cells interact with each other when in confined geometries,” Tuzel said. “Just like birds when they fly in formation like a flock, similarly through the fluid, the sperm cells interact with each other and they synchronize their tails—they start beating in phase. … How can we use this information to learn from it and utilize it?”
Tuzel was recently awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to build computational tools that could help design systems that sort sperm in real life.
Image: Sperm collection container, via Shutterstock
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Friday, October 18th, 2013
A diet heavy in bacon and other processed meats may raise a man’s risk of having poor sperm and semen quality, whereas a diet rich in fish could boost male fertility, according to a new study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. More from CNN:
Myriam Afeiche, research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, and her colleagues looked at how types of meat could be associated with semen quality. They took samples from 156 men at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center in Boston and had the men answer a questionnaire about their eating habits.
What does semen have to look like to be considered high-quality? The researchers considered four main parameters:
The concentration of sperm is one part of it. So is motility, or how fast the sperm move. The shape of the sperm also matters, as does the total sperm count – that’s the concentration multiplied by volume.
The researchers did not look at individual kinds of processed meat, so this study won’t tell you if bacon could be more sperm-stunting than hamburgers, or vice versa. But higher intake of processed meat appeared to be related to a lower percent of “morphologically normal” – or well-shaped – sperm.
Regarding fish, it seemed that men who ate more dark meat fish – such as salmon, bluefish and tuna – had higher total sperm count; more white meat fish – such as cod and halibut – was associated with normally-shaped sperm.
The researchers only looked at associations, not causes. It is unclear whether processed meat actually causes changes in sperm, or if it does, how that would happen. It’s possible men who eat more processed meat have an unhealthier diet overall, which could affect their semen. Same goes for fish intake and sperm; researchers don’t know what about fish may benefit the littler swimmers.
“There might be something else going on, but we’re not sure what it is,” Afeiche said.
Trying to get pregnant? Find out if you are maximizing your fertility, or predict your due date.
Image: Bacon, via Shutterstock
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Must Read, New Research, Pregnancy
Thursday, August 15th, 2013
With many women waiting to get married and have children, the number of couples who pursue medical treatments to become pregnant seems to be growing exponentially. But new data from federal researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the national infertility rate has remained virtually unchanged for the past 20 years. More from NBC News:
“Infertility rates have come down a little bit,” says Dr. Anjani Chandra, researcher at the NCHS, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That surprises people because they think it is going up. In fact, it really hasn’t been the case.”
Chandra and colleagues looked at data from the National Survey on Family Growth, in which more than 22,000 people were interviewed face to face between 2006 and 2010. The survey was also done in 1982 and 2002.
The surveys showed that 8.5 percent of married women aged 15 to 44 were infertile in 1982 – defined as having been married and having unprotected sex for 12 months without becoming pregnant. This fell to 6 percent of the same age group, married or unmarried, in 2006-2010.
When they added in women who could finally get pregnant but who miscarried before giving birth, the number rose to 11 percent
“Contrary to popular perceptions based on infertility service use and media coverage about biological clocks, we still don’t see that,” Chandra told NBC News.
It hasn’t changed for men, either.
“Some form of infertility … was reported by 9.4 percent of men aged 15–44 and 12 percent of men aged 25–44 in 2006–2010, similar to levels seen in 2002,” Chandra’s team writes in the report.
One obvious answer would seem to be increased use of fertility treatments. Since 1982, in vitro fertilization or IVF has been perfected, and more than 163,000 treatments were done in 2011 – just about double the number done a decade before. Federal law requires doctors and clinics to report fertility treatments and success rates to the CDC.
But this data doesn’t show whether 163,000 separate people were treated, and the new statistics suggest that in fact more people aren’t being treated. Instead, individuals may be undergoing more treatments in the same year, says Chandra.
That’s because the percentage of women who have ever gotten fertility services was the same in 2006-2010 as compared to 2002 – 11.9 percent in both times.
Dr. Richard Reindollar of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine said the findings were encouraging.
“Even though the ages at which women in the United States have their children have been increasing since 1995, the percentage of the population suffering from infertility or impaired fecundity has not increased,” Reindollar said in a statement.
Image: Fertility lab, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, January 8th, 2013
Saturated fats, which are found in cheeses and meats, are being blamed for falling sperm counts among Danish men in a new study. More from Reuters:
Researchers, whose report appeared in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that young Danish men who ate the most saturated fats had a 38 percent lower concentration of sperm, and 41 percent lower sperm counts in their semen, than those who ate the least fat.
“We cannot say that it has a causal effect, but I think other studies have shown that saturated fat intake has shown a connection to other problems and now also for sperm count,” said Tina Jensen, the study’s lead author from Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, the Danish capital.
The research is not the first to connect diet and other lifestyle factors to sperm production and quality. In 2011, Brazilian researchers found that men who ate more fruit and grains suchs wheat, oats or barley had faster and more agile sperm, as well as more sperm overall.
But that study and most others looked at these associations using data on men seeking fertility treatments, which may not be representative of all men.
Image: Steak, via Shutterstock
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