Can you test your sperms using a smartphone?

Male infertility handles approximately 20% of the infertile couples seeking Fertility treatment. It also contributes to the other causes of infertility in another 30% of couples. There are many over the counter female fertility testing products. There is hardly any choice for men.

It is well known that many men find it awkward to produce a sample in a fertility clinic. There is also a perceived level of reluctance to seek help about their fertility. Hence, any DIY sperm test despite their imperfections will continue to give men a level of control for measuring the sperm health in the comfort of their home.

In this age of technology, there is an insatiable desire to measure every bodily function and wellbeing of our health. On this note, male fertility presents a broad scope for development of devices or apps.

Dr Kobori and team presented their novel idea at European Society of Human Reproduction (ESHRE) this year. They have been researching the use of smartphone devices to aid semen analysis. They fit a microscope with a 0.8mm ball lens into a plastic case. This was then attached to three different types of smartphone devices.

The microscope lens magnifies the image many hundred times to take the pictures or movie clips of the sperm cells. To do this test, the volunteers had to wait for few minutes to liquefy the semen. Then they used the device to take a few seconds video clip of the sperms. This image was sent to the laboratory for interpretation. Afterwards, they compared the picture with the computer-assisted sperm analysis (CASA).

Interestingly, they reported a good correlation between the results using this ball lens strapped to the smartphone and the results from computer-assisted sperm analysis. The team reported almost 90% chance of predicting the low sperm count or low motility.

Men who have low sperm motility and low sperm count can then seek the help of a fertility specialist and discuss their options. Men with persistent low sperm count and sperm morphology will have to consider male fertility treatments such as ICSI.

One of the limitation is the lack of information about the sperm morphology. Also, neither sperm count nor sperm motility is a measure of the ability of the sperm to fertilise the egg. Even a normal sperm count, sperm concentration or sperm motility does not give an absolute assurance about male fertility.

If you have been unsuccessfully trying with your partner for a year or two, then you should consider seeking help from a fertility specialist rather than relying on DIY sperm test kits.

This is an exciting study. It would enable men to test some aspects of their fertility from the comfort of their home. These results have to be tested in an extensive study to assess the reliability of the reported results before using for a wider clinical application.

This will also provide an inexpensive way of screening for male fertility in remote areas of resource-poor countries. Despite its limitations, it is an interesting and a novel application. It has the potential to improve in times to come.