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Male Infertility: Smartphone-based Semen Test Eases Barriers

Testing for male infertility has traditionally required clinic visits, preventing many men from seeking an evaluation. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital recently developed a home-based diagnostic test to measure semen quality using a smartphone-based device.

“We want to be able to make male infertility testing as simple and affordable as home pregnancy tests,” said Hadi Shafiee, PhD, a principal investigator in the Division of Engineering in Medicine and Renal Division of Medicine at BWH. “This test can alleviate the stress and embarrassment that many men experience during infertility testing in a hospital or clinic setting and may lead to earlier fertility treatment among couples who are trying to conceive.”

Using an optical attachment and a disposable device that is wirelessly connected to a smartphone, the test is able to accurately analyze a semen sample in less than five seconds. The smartphone application provides testing instruction and results, and a disposable microchip is used for sample handling.

To evaluate the usability and precision of the device, the research team collected and studied 350 clinical semen specimens. The smartphone-based device was able to detect abnormal semen samples based on sperm concentration and motility with an accuracy of 98 percent. The team also evaluated how well both trained and untrained users performed the test using the smartphone-based device. Results of the study were recently published in Science Translational Medicine.

In addition to at-home male fertility testing, the device could also be used by men who have had a vasectomy and typically must go to office visits with a urologist for several months after the surgery to ensure that the operation was successful.

“This new test may allow vasectomy patients to be monitored at home in the future,” said Dr. Shafiee.

The device also is compatible with testing blood and saliva samples, so the research team will be exploring new applications in the near future that may help with other testing challenges in the clinic. 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 soon.