Advanced microfluidic technology enhances sperm selection for increased IVF success rates

The bunch of sperm cells on the way to an egg cell

A novel microfluidic technology has emerged, offering promise to couples grappling with male fertility-related challenges during their in-vitro fertilization (IVF) journey, potentially enhancing their chances of conceiving. According to the World Health Organization, approximately one in six individuals globally faces infertility, and in Australia, one in every 22 children is born through assisted reproduction. With a disheartening 78% failure rate, each IVF cycle can be an emotionally taxing experience often marked by disappointment.

Male infertility is a factor in about 30% of infertility cases, attributed to issues such as low sperm count, diminished motility, or poor sperm quality. Professor Majid Warkiani, from the School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), emphasized that despite significant advancements in selecting eggs and embryos to boost IVF success rates, sperm selection, a vital aspect of assisted reproduction, has seen limited technological innovation.

To address this gap, a collaborative effort between researchers from UTS and NeoGenix Biosciences, a UTS-incubated startup, has led to the development and testing of an innovative microfluidic sperm selection device designed to offer a more dependable approach to choosing high-quality sperm.

Conventional sperm selection techniques like density gradient centrifugation and swim-up have been known to induce DNA fragmentation and cell death, often resulting in unsuccessful IVF attempts. The newly devised technology takes the form of a 3D-printed microfluidic sperm selection device, drawing inspiration from the female reproductive tract and mirroring the natural sperm selection process, where only a small fraction of total sperm manages to reach the egg.

Professor Warkiani explained that extensive testing was conducted, comparing the new method with traditional IVF selection techniques. The results were impressive, revealing an 85% enhancement in DNA integrity and an average 90% reduction in sperm cell mortality. Furthermore, the sperm chosen through this method exhibited better recovery post-freezing compared to conventional approaches. The findings from this study were recently published in the journal Nature: Microsystems & Nanoengineering.

In a significant step forward, the researchers have joined forces with Monash University and Australian IVF clinics to integrate this groundbreaking technology into clinical practice. Their aspiration is that this device will provide much-needed assistance to individuals grappling with infertility while also potentially reducing the number of unsuccessful IVF cycles, offering renewed hope to those on the challenging path to parenthood.