Poor sperm quality is a major cause of infertility, yet men are frequently left out of the fertility conversation and it is still seen by many as a “female issue”, according to Professor Sheena E. M. Lewis of Queen’s University Belfast. Her research has led to the development of SpermComet, a test of DNA quality. Here she explains the need for the test.
Since IVF began, a plethora of tests have been devised for women whilst a conventional semen analysis continues to be the only routine diagnostic test for men.
This analysis has not been changed for 50 years and only looks at the outside of sperm.
The good news is that scientists have now developed a more sophisticated test. This test examines the inside of the sperm, the DNA. That’s the most important part of a sperm or egg as it’s the DNA that couples pass on to their child.
Over the past few years many studies have shown that sperm DNA quality is a useful biomarker for every fertility check point from fertilisation, embryo quality and pregnancy through to a healthy baby.
So it’s now clear that sperm DNA testing has a prominent role for the male fertility pathway. But what test will we use?
The SpermComet test was developed by our University team over 20 years of dedicated research. Every man has some damage in every sperm but it’s the amount of damage that matters.
The SpermComet is the only test that measures the actual DNA damage in individual sperm. It is called the SpermComet because it is just like a celestial Comet except in sperm the comet tail is made up of fragments of broken DNA.
If the SpermComet result is less than 25% damage, the sperm DNA is healthy and is not the cause of the couple’s problem. If the damage is 25-50%, IVF may be the best treatment for that couple.
If it’s more than 50% damage, it may be better to have IVF with ICSI (where one sperm is injected directly into the egg). This can save the couple time, money and heartache.
Twenty first century living just isn’t good for our sperm. We have many sperm enemies in our world today such as smoking, being overweight, recreational drug use, environmental pollutants, even a ‘food on the run’ diet…. The link between them all is that they produce high levels of ‘free radicals’ or oxidants, which can damage our sperm’s DNA.
But….. another piece of good news is that even if men find that their sperm quality is poor, they have a chance to improve it.
Unlike women who have all their eggs at birth, men make new sperm every few months. Simple lifestyle changes can lead to big improvements in sperm quality including its DNA and lead to treatment success and the baby of their dreams.