Microfluidic device uses a field of three-dimensional posts that create an obstacle course for the swimming sperm cells.
Boston: Women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) may become pregnant with fewer treatment cycles, thanks to a new device that can select faster and healthier sperm cells, scientists, including one of Indian origin, have found.
The microfluidic device dubbed SPARTAN, short for Simple Periodic ARray for Trapping And IsolatioN, was developed by a team of researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and Stanford University in the US.
It uses a field of three-dimensional posts that create an obstacle course for the swimming sperm cells.
The strongest and healthiest sperm get through this array the fastest and then are collected at the outlet to be used in the IVF process, according to researchers, including Thiruppathiraja Chinnasamy from Stanford University.
Traditional sperm-sorting methods used in IVF treatments select sperm that are the fastest swimmers.
The SPARTAN device collects sperm that are the fastest and also the healthiest because it culls out those with malformations, such as bent necks or larger heads, which can slow their movement.
"With SPARTAN, we not only get sperm with excellent motility, but also with normal morphology and better DNA integrity, helping families worldwide by reducing the stress of multiple IVF procedures, while potentially increasing pregnancy rates," said Erkan Tuzel, associate professor at WPI.
"This could increase patients' chances of getting pregnant," said Tuzel, who co-led the study published in the journal Advanced Science.
The SPARTAN device is about four millimetres wide and 12 to 16 millimetres long.
Sperm are simply injected into one end and the fastest and healthiest are collected on the opposite end for immediate use in in vitro fertilisation.
The device also prevents the type of damage to cells that can occur with traditional sorting methods, such as those using high-force centrifuges.
Since SPARTAN can be used in the fertility clinic, sperm do not need to be frozen and shipped to a lab for processing; the in-clinic sorting procedure takes between five and 30 minutes.
The new sperm-sorting device also could mean that patients will spend less money overall on IVF treatments, which generally cost about USD 15,000 per cycle, the researchers said.
With the new sperm sorting technology they could be able to become pregnant without going through as many treatment cycles, they said.