Smartphone App Claims to Accurately Test Male Fertility

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An innovative smartphone app that brings a diagnostic laboratory into the palm of your hand can assess male infertility with a 98 percent accuracy rate.

Researchers and technical engineers from two Harvard-affiliated hospitals developed a home-based test that plugs into your smartphone and can assess semen quality, as well as sperm concentration and movement, in just a few seconds.

Credit: Science Translational Magazine

Although male infertility is as prevalent as female infertility, most times the condition goes undiagnosed, report the study authors in Science Translational Medicine. They hope that their mobile-activated device, which costs at little as $5 per test, can help increase the availability of overall testing.

“We wanted to come up with a solution to make male infertility testing as simple and affordable as home pregnancy tests,” said Hadi Shafiee, an assistant professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and principal investigator at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).

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In the face of “socioeconomic factors” that often prevent men from undergoing a fertility test, the researchers believe that a simple, cost-effective device can be a boon to men’s health.

“Men have to provide semen samples in these rooms at a hospital, a situation in which they often experience stress, embarrassment, pessimism and disappointment,” said Shafiee. “Current clinical tests are lab-based, time-consuming and subjective. This test is low-cost, quantitative, highly accurate, and can analyze a video of an undiluted, unwashed semen sample in less than five seconds.”

How the App Works

The fertility analyzer uses an “optical attachment” that plugs into a smartphone and a one-use device to collect a semen sample. The device takes a visual of the sample to assess sperm health and also contains a miniature scale that can weigh the sample and assess total sperm count.

Testing the innovative app on 350 clinical specimens, researchers found that the device detected abnormal semen samples with a 98 percent accuracy rating. The researchers add that the device could be used to measure samples in men who have undergone vasectomies in addition to its use as a fertility tester.

A smartphone connects to an optical attachment which analyzes the microchip sperm sample. Credit: Science Translational Magazine

“The ability to bring point-of-care sperm testing to the consumer, or health facilities with limited resources, is a true game-changer,” said John Petrozza, study co-author and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Fertility Center.

The app is potentially invaluable as a measuring tool because infertility in men is a common condition, albeit one that rarely gets diagnosed. “More than 40 percent of infertile couples have difficulty conceiving due to sperm abnormalities and this development will provide faster and improved access to fertility care. By working with Dr. Shafiee and his lab at BWH, and utilizing our clinical fertility expertise here at MGH, we have really been able to create a product that will benefit a lot of people.”

The device has applications beyond fertility testing, add the researchers. It could be used to test blood and saliva samples, as well. The research team is currently performing additional tests and plans to file the device for approval with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the near future.

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Richard Scott

Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.