JANUARY 20, 2009--Scientists at the University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, Scotland) say they have developed a new method of testing sperm viability to improve in-vitro fertilization (IVF) success rates. "In natural conception the fittest and healthiest sperm are positively selected by the arduous journey they make to the egg," said Dr. Alistair Elfick, lead scientist on the project. "What our technology does is to replace natural selection with a DNA based 'quality score.'"
The process involves capturing an individual sperm cell between two highly focused beams of laser light and using Raman spectroscopy to assess its DNA properties based on vibrational patterns. The method measures the DNA quality of sperm but, unlike previous tests, it does not kill the cell--so a cell that scores high can be used for IVF treatment.
The discovery could complement another test now being commercialized to assess the viability of embryos for IVF. (See the BioOptics World article NIR spectroscopy enables embryo assessment.) That technology was developed to address a similar goal: to increase IVF pregnancy rates while reducing incidents of multiple gestation.
The Edinburgh technique could help childless couples in the next five to 10 years, according to the university. But Elfick stressed that, "This is not about designer babies. We can only tell if the sperm is strong and healthy--not if it will produce a baby with blue eyes."
Infertility affects at least one in six couples, and success rates for IVF treatment are about one in four currently. But selecting the best quality sperm could increase the chances of pregnancy. The scientists' work was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
More on the work of Dr. Alistair Elfick
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