The SpermComet test is brilliant in its simplicity. It’s a skilled study that uses chemicals to ‘relax’ the tightly coiled strands of DNA in individual sperm, before separating them out by using an electric field.
But likening sperm to something intergalactic may be a scientific claim to beat all others, but read between the lines and there is some intriguing research coming out of Belfast that, while it may not provide a direct solution to infertility, can certainly help preserve finances on what is often an expensive fertility journey.
DNA bunches that then shine brightly are intact, while a weaker glow signifies broken material; and by examining the length of the tail of damaged DNA, scientists can tell how badly affected a man’s sperm is.
For Professor Sheena Lewis, of SpermComet, the science could hold valuable clues going forward, as well as enabling couples here and now to save thousands of pounds on IVF, whilst giving quicker relief to some of the uncertainty that accompanies infertility.
“We already have information for the relationship between sperm DNA damage and IVF and ICSI success for over 500 couples,” she tells Fertility Road. “With each couple we test now, we ask their clinics for information as to how useful the test was so we are amassing more information each week and subjecting the SpermComet to further rigorous scrutiny.
“What we know already though is that we have been inundated with people asking for the test.
We hooked up with Queens University here in Belfast to help provide the tests to clinics and their patients, and are already supplying further afield in the UK and Ireland, as well as beginning negotiations with partners in Greece, China and the USA.”
Professor Lewis believes the test could be especially useful for those who lose out in the IVF postcode lottery; for instance, where couples only have one free cycle of IVF.
Having the test could direct them to the best treatment on their first and only cycle. It could even be particularly useful for men with normal semen analysis – after all, research has shown that 80% of men with no detectable problems with a semen analysis do actually have sperm DNA damagex. Previously, these couples have been directed to IUI or even IVF when their chances of success with these treatments were still quite low.
“The figures are quite astounding, and to think we have the ability to offer real clarity is very interesting,” Professor Lewis continues. “For instance, couples with less than 25% sperm DNA damage have a 33% chance of a baby, whereas couple with more than 50% damage have only a 13% chance of conceiving.
“On the other hand, sperm DNA damage doesn’t reduce success with ICSI. We think this is because in ICSI, the egg has longer to repair the DNA damage from the sperm before the embryo develops further. So if couples have high sperm DNA damage, ICSI may be a better option for them.”
Feedback on SpermComet from both clinics and couples has been good and the hope is that, at around £600, this is a technology that could mean early diagnosis of one of the key factors in infertility.
“More patients are requesting the SpermComet test as a first investigation for the man as this gives them more information before starting treatment. That means saving time and money, and of course, that in itself increases the chances of having the baby they so desire.”
SpermComet are also looking at a new study on the role of sperm DNA in recurrent miscarriage, while another project looks to see if antioxidants can improve sperm DNA quality.
For more information on the science behind SpermComet’s research, visit www.spermcomet.com