Apr 10, 2017 | By David

A new device built using 3D printing technology will turn a regular smartphone into an advanced all-in-one sperm testing kit. Simply attaching the device to the phone and downloading the app that is designed to work with it will allow a user’s semen samples to be tested for multiple important factors. Its makers say the results will be just as accurate as those obtained at a specialist medical facility.

For couples or single people who are trying for a baby or, alternatively, for men trying to determine whether their vasectomy operation went according to plan, the testing of sperm is a crucial procedure. However, due to various social stigmas related to sexuality as well as the basic inconvenience of having to visit a doctor repeatedly, it can be a difficult one—and something many people might seek to avoid as much as possible. In many countries, there is also the issue of limited resources or limited access to medical care, which may affect the ability to carry out the necessary tests. 

With all this in mind, researchers at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital, set to work on finding a way in which a semen sample could be tested with a portable, accessible device. The product they designed has now been tested on over 300 samples, and found to have an accuracy of around 98 percent. Most of the parts of the miniature sperm-testing device were produced using 3D printing techniques, which allowed it to be built quickly and, for such complex technology, remarkably cheaply. Total material costs for the initial prototype were just $4.45, and the market price when the final device is released is not expected to be much more than this.

The device consists of a white light LED, two aspheric lenses, a battery, and some other electronic components. After depositing their sample into a cup, the user can gather a precise amount of semen using a disposable microfluidic chip, which incorporates a capillary tip and a rubber bulb. This chip is then simply inserted into the main device attatched to the phone, and the analysis can begin. Making use of the smartphone’s camera, a brief video is recorded of the semen sample, from which a number of important factors can be determined within five seconds.

The user is guided step-by-step through the process with the device’s free app, and they can find out information relating to sperm concentration as well as sperm motility. Another crucial measurement, total motile sperm weight, could also be possible with the addition of a miniature weight scale into the device. This is the first home sperm-testing kit that has ever been able to accurately determine these latter two factors, giving it the potential to revolutionize fertility care in the medical sector. “The ability to bring point-of-care sperm testing to the consumer, or health facilities with limited resources, is a true game changer,” said John Petrozza, MD, a co-author of the study and director of the MGH Fertility Center. “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. 

Not only will the device be crucial for testing human fertility, it could also be used by animal breeders to find out similar types of information. Further applications of the same technology with different software or processing methods could see it being used to perform medical tests on other bodily fluids, such as blood or saliva.

According to Hadi Shafiee, PhD, a principal investigator in the Division of Engineering in Medicine and Renal Division of Medicine at BWH, the research team wanted a way '‘to make male infertility testing as simple and affordable as home pregnancy tests.” Not only do men '‘have to provide semen samples in these rooms at a hospital, a situation in which they often experience stress, embarrassment, pessimism and disappointment’' but, according to her, ‘'clinical tests are lab-based, time-consuming, and subjective.''

The device certainly seems to be a groundbreaking solution, and is another important example of the use of 3D printing in healthcare. The next generation, some of whom this device may well have helped to bring into the world, are likely to see 3D printing technology as an indispensable part of the medical industry.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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