An inexpensive and easy-to-use smartphone app created as part of a collaborative research and development effort between Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) represents a new, incredibly effective tool for the 45 million couples worldwide who struggle with infertility.

The app consists of an optical attachment that can connect 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 sample handling, with no power source necessary, and a miniaturized scale wirelessly measures total sperm count. Throughout the testing process, an intuitive smartphone interface guides the user through each step.

To evaluate the device’s effectiveness, the research team collected and studied 350 clinical semen specimens at the MGH Fertility Center. Overall, the device was able to analyze sperm concentration and motility with approximately 98 percent accuracy.

Researchers hope the ease-of-use, low costs, and privacy offered by the app can help overcome much of the cultural and social stigma surrounding male infertility, especially in resource-limited countries. Male infertility is as common as female infertility, but it is often undiagnosed because of these factors.

“We wanted to come up with a solution 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. “Men have to provide semen samples in these rooms at a hospital, a situation in which they often experience stress, embarrassment, pessimism and disappointment. 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.”

We wanted to come up with a solution to make male infertility testing as simple and affordable as home pregnancy tests.

For John Petrozza, MD, a co-author of the study and director of the MGH Fertility Center, the device’s ability to deliver point-of-care sperm testing to the consumer, or health facilities with limited resources, is a “game-changer.”

“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,” Dr. Petrozza said.

Full findings by the team were published online at Science Translational Medicine.

Topics: Technology, Innovation, Academic Medical Centers

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