Genetic Test May Help Spot Male Fertility Problems
Though still experimental, it measures key qualities of sperm, researchers say
By Dennis Thompson
WEDNESDAY, July 8, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A new genetic test for sperm could help determine whether a couple should resort to in vitro fertilization to conceive a child, researchers say.
Men whose sperm lack critical RNA elements tend to have lower chances of naturally conceiving a child, according to study findings published July 8 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
An RNA analysis of a potential father's sperm can tell fertility doctors whether a couple should skip less-invasive treatments and go straight to assisted reproductive technology (ART), in which eggs are combined with sperm in the laboratory to achieve fertilization, the study's authors said.
"The absence of one or more of these RNA elements was indicative of those who would be successful by ART, which is a more invasive technique, versus those who would be successful by timed intercourse or intrauterine insemination, which is less invasive," said study lead author Stephen Krawetz. He is a professor of fetal therapy and diagnosis and associate director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.
About 13 percent of couples face problems with infertility, the study authors said in background notes. There are a wide battery of diagnostic tests available to women who are struggling to conceive. But, fertility testing for men currently is limited to a physical examination of their sperm's movement, volume and concentration, Krawetz said.
"If you think about it, it's how good do the sperm look. That really doesn't tell you much about the quality," Krawetz said. "A sperm may look fantastic, but yet could not be up to the job of fertilization."
To study sperm quality in more depth, Krawetz and his team first studied couples who had been able to naturally conceive by having sex on days when the woman was most fertile.
Genetic analysis of the men's sperm revealed a set of 648 RNA elements that are vital to male fertility. Many of these elements correspond to genes involved in sperm development, the ability to move, energy production, fertilization and embryo formation, the researchers said.