Whether you're trying to determine if your partner has good swimmers or you want to make sure that vasectomy really took, the answer may be as close as your smartphone. A new device attaches to a smartphone to measure semen quality — and get this, there's an app for it.
A team at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital came up with the app and detail their semen analyzer in Science Translational Medicine.
"Men have to provide semen samples in these rooms at a hospital, a situation in which they often experience stress, embarrassment, pessimism, and disappointment," Dr. Hadi Shafiee, the lead investigator at BWH, said in a statement.
Obviously, he's never had a pelvic exam, but the idea is still kind of neat.
"We wanted to come up with a solution to make male infertility testing as simple and affordable as home pregnancy tests," Shafiee said.
The device can detect abnormal sperm based on sperm concentration and motility with an approximately 98 percent accuracy rate.
The team collected 350 semen samples and said the the app accurately detected abnormal samples based on World Health Organization standards. Investigators also looked at how well trained and novice users were able to use the device.
The analyzer includes an optical attachment that can connect to a smartphone as well as a disposable microchip device onto which a semen sample can be loaded. To be more specific, there is a microfluidic device and an optical attachment. The disposable microchip has a capillary tip and a rubber bulb that is dipped into the semen sample the same way you would put the tip of a home pregnancy test into a cup of urine.
In addition to the device, the team also designed a user-friendly smartphone application that guides the user through each step of testing. Once the semen sample is loaded into the phone, the Android app creates a short video of the swimmers in action.
Shafiee's team said that the test could provide at-home fertility testing for couples who are trying to conceive. It could also replace follow-up visits to a urologist for men who have had a vasectomy, as they often have to visit for several months after the procedure to give samples and ensure the operation was successful. It also may be utilized by animal breeders to confirm the virility of a sample.
Shafiee isn't stopping there, either; the device could test blood and saliva samples — something he wants to explore in the future. He did not return inquiries to SheKnows at the time of publication.
Right now, the app is in the prototyping phase, so the researchers are still working out the kinks to produce a device that can undergo more testing and ultimately receive Food and Drug Administration approval.
"I think the concept is great," Dr. Michael Glassner, the director of Main Line Fertility in Pennsylvania and a professor at Drexel School of Medicine, told SheKnows. "It will enable couples to decide if they should seek fertility help sooner if a male [infertility] factor is detected. I also think the ability to empower couples —especially early on — is important. I also believe it will help to get the male partner invested quicker."
According to the study, there are other home-based male fertility tests such as FertilMarq and SpermCheck. They use a chemical-staining approach for detecting sperm-specific proteins on the sperm head. Trak is another product that is FDA-approved. But the tests can only measure sperm concentration — not motility.
"As always, the price point is going to be vital to its scalability," Glassner noted, adding that insurance typically covers semen analysis testing. "They would have to keep the price reasonable."
According to the research, it costs $4.45 to manufacture the product.
Glassner warns that the at-home test can't replace the official semen analysis testing that men undergo during care, but there is a value in being able to get an idea of where you stand at home.
Dr. Serena Chen, an infertility specialist with Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey, told SheKnows that she believes it will be an asset overall.
"In my experience, people love getting this type of information on their own, so if it is relatively inexpensive and easy to use, I believe that people will use this technology," Chen added.
While she agrees that it can't replace lab testing, it could be useful to monitor situations in the long term.
"The downside is that people can get upset or misinterpret do-it-yourself results without the expertise of a physician to help put the data into the proper context," she noted, adding that complex counseling and other factors need to go into decisions about infertility that are made between patients and their physicians.
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