Smartphone attachment screens for male infertility with 98% accuracy

An optics-enabled device that attaches to a smartphone can measure semen quality at home.

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Recognizing that current standard methods for diagnosing male infertility can be expensive, labor-intensive, and require testing in a clinical setting, a team of researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH; both in Boston, MA) has developed a device that attaches to a smartphone to measure semen quality at home. Findings from the team's study evaluating the device indicate that the smartphone-based semen analyzer can identify abnormal semen samples based on sperm concentration and motility criteria with approximately 98% accuracy.

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According to Hadi Shafiee, Ph.D., a principal investigator in the Division of Engineering in Medicine and Renal Division of Medicine at BWH, the test is low-cost, quantitative, highly accurate, and can analyze a video of an undiluted, unwashed semen sample in <5 s.

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Team members of the smartphone-based semen analysis system developed at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital are (L-R) Manoj Kumar Kanakasabapathy, Charles Bormann, Hadi Shafiee, John Petrozza, and Prudhvi Thirumalaraju. (All images courtesy of Manoj Kumar Kanakasabapathy and Prudhvi Thirumalaraju [Shafiee lab], Brigham and Women's Hospital)

The analyzer consists of an optical attachment that connects to a smartphone and a disposable device onto which a semen sample can be loaded. A disposable microchip with a capillary tip and a rubber bulb is used for simple, power-free semen sample handling. The team also designed a user-friendly smartphone application that guides the user through each step of testing, and a miniaturized weight scale that wirelessly connects to smartphones to measure total sperm count.

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A technician operating the smartphone-based semen analyzer to test a semen sample for male infertility; the lightweight 3D-printed setup can be built for <$5.

To evaluate the device, the research team collected and studied 350 clinical semen specimens at the MGH Fertility Center. Overall, the smartphone-based device was able to detect abnormal semen samples based on WHO thresholds on sperm concentration and motility (sperm concentration <15 million sperm/ml and/or sperm motility <40%) with an accuracy of 98%. The team also evaluated how well both trained and untrained users performed the test using the smartphone-based device.

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The smartphone-based semen analyzer can be used to test for male infertility at home; the 3D-printed setup costing <$5 can analyze most semen samples in <5 s.

Shafiee's team, which focuses on developing new technologies using microfluidics, sees many applications for the technology. In addition to at-home male fertility testing for couples trying to conceive, the device could also be used by men who have had a vasectomy. Usually, men must go to office visits with a urologist for several months after the surgery to ensure that the operation was successful; the new test may allow them to be monitored at home. The test could also be used by animal breeders to confirm the virility of a sample. Beyond semen analysis, the device is also compatible with testing blood and saliva samples.

The smartphone-based analyzer for semen analysis is currently in a prototyping stage. The team plans to perform additional tests and will file for FDA approval.

Full details of the work appear in the journal Science Translational Medicine; for more information, please visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.aai7863.

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