Breakthrough sperm treatment offers new fertility hope
Researchers from Monash University have discovered that using high-frequency ultrasound can boost the motility of sperm, potentially increasing a couple’s chances of conceiving.
In a world first study published in Advanced Science, a team from the Monash University Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering led by Dr Reza Nosrati with Professor Adrian Neild and lead author PhD student Junyang Gai, has found that sperm treated using high-frequency ultrasound swim up to 30 per cent faster to navigate the curved fallopian tube.
And further, the number of sperm motile after 20 seconds of ultrasound exposure also increased by 30 per cent.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 48 million couples and 186 million individuals live with infertility globally. Low sperm motility, the ability of sperm to move efficiently through a woman’s reproductive tract, is a common cause of male factor infertility.
Currently, the only other known method of inducing twitching motility in sperm is an invasive treatment using the chemical Pentoxifylline, however, cells treated with this chemical die quickly.
This breakthrough discovery offers a non-invasive and efficient method of increasing the number of motile sperm and individual sperm motility and provides new opportunities to better understand and treat male infertility.
The ultrasound treatment will potentially reduce the burden for couples experiencing infertility, by either increasing the fertility rates in natural reproduction or circumventing the need for more invasive interventions in assisted reproduction.
“What we have found is that high-frequency ultrasound enhances the rate of metabolic activity in sperm. We are essentially boosting the sperm’s ability to swim towards their desired destination, which is the egg. This is a very exciting development in infertility treatment and we are looking forward to moving to a large-scale clinical trial,” said Dr Nosrati.
Professor Neild says the ultrasound method offers both non-invasiveness and time efficiency, and sperm motility can be significantly improved with just five to 50 seconds of high-frequency ultrasound.
A sperm sample can be treated after collection during IVF procedures and the treatment is easily implemented into a clinical workflow. A portable platform for use in fertility clinics is currently in development.
“Our method is not invasive and can be used to either induce a twitching motility to detect the viability of immotile sperm, or increase the swimming velocity of motile sperm for better selection,” says the paper’s lead author PhD candidate Jungyang Gai.
This latest breakthrough is a continuation of Dr Nosrati’s globally recognised work on microfluidics for male fertility and assisted reproduction.
Dr Nosrati has received numerous prestigious awards and recognitions, including a Research Discovery Award from the University of Toronto, the 2016 Douglas R. Colton Medal for research excellence in Microsystems and Nanotechnology in Canada, and the 2018 ROYAN International Research Award for outstanding contributions to Embryology and Andrology. He is the first engineer to win the Newcastle Emerging Research Leader Award from the Society for Reproductive Biology in 2021.