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 September 26, 2003
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New Sperm-Sorting Technique
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(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- A new sperm-sorting technique could improve infertility treatment for men with inadequate sperm, according to new research. Researchers say the technique is an improvement over the method currently used to sort sperm because it doesn't damage any viable sperm.

About 40 percent of infertility issues are caused by male problems including low motility or movement of sperm. While current methods help men with borderline cases of a low sperm count, researchers from the University of Michigan say this new method could help men with extremely low sperm numbers.

The method involves a new area of biomedical engineering that deals with microscopic flow of fluids. It's the same idea used with gene sequencing and sorting cell cultures. A device about the size of a penny has two channels that flow together and eventually separate. The sperm and a saline solution are sent through the device. The motile or healthy sperm cross to one side while the unhealthy sperm stayed in the other side. Study co-author Shuichi Takayama, Ph.D., says, "Everything is pushed downstream because of fluid flow being generated by gravity and surface tension. The motile sperm exit a different outlet than non-motile components because motile sperm can swim and cross streamlines."

Before passing through the device, only 44 percent of the sperm sample was healthy. After the sperm went through the device, the motile sperm increased to 98 percent. Testing showed the process did not affect the sperm quality. This is a big advantage because the current method used for sorting sperm can damage healthy sperm. The current method involves spinning the sperm at high speeds wherein dead sperm can release free oxygen radicals that can damage good sperm.

The current research only focused on separating the sperm and researchers did not attempt fertilization. However, study authors say they are encouraged by their findings. They add it will take several years of perfecting the procedure before this sperm-sorting technique could be used in a clinical setting.

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to: http://www.ivanhoe.com/newsalert/.

SOURCE: Reproductive Biomedicine Online, 2003;7:73-79

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