Feb 8, 2016 | By Kira

For couples and individuals trying to conceive, infertility is potentially the most distressing obstacle to overcome, from both an emotional and medical point of view. While there are many different causes, low sperm motility—the inability for otherwise healthy sperm to actively swim through the female reproductive tract and attach to the egg—is one of the most common and difficult to treat.

Now, researchers from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences at IFW Dresden, Germany, have used a Nanoscribe 3D printer to develop tiny ‘micro-motors’ that can actually help boost a sperm’s motility, increasing its odds of latching onto the egg. These 3D printed ‘Spermbots’ have proven very successful in lab tests, and could eventually be used to help solve this aspect of male infertility.

The 3D printed Spermbots consist of tiny metal helices controlled by a rotating magnetic field. Essentially, the helix, or coil, wraps itself around the tail of the slow-swimming sperm. It is then actuated by the rotating magnetic field (controlled by the doctors), giving the sperm an extra boost and driving it into the egg. While not guaranteed, this greatly improves the odds of fertilization.

“We present artificially motorized sperm cells—a novel type of hybrid micromotor, where customized microhelices serve as motors for transporting sperm cells with motion deficiencies to help them carry out their natural function,” said the researchers, whose work was recently published in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) journal Nano Letters.

As you can imagine, in order to latch onto the tail of an actual human sperm, the 3D printed ‘corkscrew’ micromotors must be absolutely minuscule (remember these 3D printed art sculptures that were the size of a human sperm?). To accomplish this, the researchers turned to German 3D printing company Nanoscribe, a leader in developing 3D printing technology for the nano-, micro-, and mesoscale.

Nanoscribe’s microfabrication 3D printing technology is based on ‘direct laser writing,’ a non-linear two-photo absorption process in which a controlled laser solidifies a liquid photo-sensitive material, and can 3D print objects measuring from 150 nanometers up to the millimeter range. This microscopic 3D printing scale opens the doors to many specialized 3D printing applications, including medical technology such as these 3D printed ‘Spermbots’.

Artificially motorized sperm shown latching onto an egg in petri dish tests

Two of the most common existing treatments for infertility include artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. While the former is relatively inexpensive and simple to perform, introducing sperm directly to a woman’s uterus using a medical instrument, the success rate is on average below 30 percent, according to a study by the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority of the United Kingdom. At the same time, in vitro fertilization can offer success rates of up to 70-90 percent, yet it is much more complicated, expensive, and stressful for the woman involved.

While the IFW Dresden research team admit that there is still much more work needed before their 3D printed Spermbots can be used in clinical testing, the success of their artificially motorized sperms in petri dish tests, shown in the video below, proves that the method has the very promising potential to help boost the odds of fertilization, and overcome male infertility caused by low sperm motility.

The research was published in a paper titled “Cellular Cargo Delivery: Toward Assisted Fertilization by Sperm-Carrying Micromotors” authored by Mariana Medina- Sánchez, Lukas Schawrz, Franziska Hebestreit and Anne K. Meyer of the Institute of Integrative Nanosciences, IFW Dresden; and Oliver G. Schmidt of the Material Systems for Nanoelectronics, Chemnitz University of Technology, also in Germany.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Sandra wrote at 2/9/2016 7:39:42 PM:

There's a reason why sperms can't swim, it means they're not good, not perfect, not fitted to propagate, if these types of sperms will be used, has anyone ever wondered what the result would be? disability or complications may go with this. Even if we're trying to get pregnant now, and so far all my conceiveeasy pregnancy tests say negative, it'll never cross my mind to try this spermbot thing. plus, I'm pretty sure this one's expensive too, so I'm not really sure about this. but this might work too.

zenaida wrote at 2/9/2016 6:47:36 PM:

I am very happy that more and more alternatives are now available to help couples conceive and it is also very nice to know that more and more programs like these are becoming available.  I struggled to conceive for years, finally, after cycles of pregnancytips pills, I am now a very happy mom of one. The journey has been hard but worth it. And I am very thankful my husband and family were all there to support me.. 

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