New test for male infertility

Infertility affects around 10-15% of couples who are trying to conceive, is not just a female problem! It’s a two-way thing, with nearly half of cases being male factor with a fertility issue.

The first stage of undergoing an assessment for potential male fertility issues is a visit to a relevant healthcare professional. An assessment usually consists of a physical exam with questions about lifestyle and medical history, such as:

  • Previous surgeries/operations
  • Current medications
  • Diet, sleep patterns and exercise habits
  • Lifestyle habits: smoking, drinking and recreational drug use if applicable!

There may also be a frank discussion about the male’s sex life, including any problems or experiences with previous sexually transmitted diseases.

Quantity and quality of sperm

Once the initial examination is concluded, it is usual to provide a sample of semen in order for the quantity and quality of the sperm to be assessed.

  • Quantity of sperm (sperm count): A low sperm count, also called oligozoospermia, is where a man has fewer than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen. Having a low sperm count can make it more difficult to conceive naturally, although successful pregnancies can still occur
  • Quality of sperm: An assessment is made of how viable the sperm are.

This is generally based on three factors:

  • Sperm motility: simply, this a measure of how well the sperm swim
  • Sperm morphology: an assessment, based on experience and knowledge, of the size, shape, and appearance of sperm
  • Semen properties: the ejaculate liquid should not be too thick or the sperm will not be able to move through it easily.

What’s the problem with traditional assessments?

The traditional assessment and tests provide reliable results in terms of the evaluation of sperm, but they do not quantify the actual ability of sperm to fertilize an egg.

The ability of sperm to fertilize an egg is called capacitation and only sperm that capacitate are capable of fertilizing.

A sperm test that tells us about sperm capacitance could help predict men that might need treatment. And importantly, which couples might have success with different forms of assisted reproduction.

Now researchers at Cornell University, USA have gone that extra step! They have invented a Cap-Score test. The new test quantifies sperm capacitation by measuring the changes that take place within a sperm cell that enable it to fertilize.

The Cap-Score test uses a technique called fluorescent microscopy to distinguish fertile from infertile sperm cells.

Test reveals new information on male fertility

Professor Alexander Travis, Professor of Reproductive Biology at Cornell said, “The Cap-Score test is designed to provide information on the man’s fertility that they never had before. Now the doctors can discuss these results with the couple. This helps them choose a personalized treatment pathway that is right for them to try to get pregnant. This now includes how to improve the man’s fertility.”

Importantly, the researchers found that almost two thirds of men who had low Cap-Scores passed the traditional semen analysis.

Professor Travis added, “Couples and doctors have had to make important decisions about their fertility without all the information they needed. This has caused a lot of anxiety and pain physically, financially and emotionally.”

Helping physicians to make informed decisions

This new test, which is now available in all 50 states of the US, should help to improve that situation. Using the Cap-Score test, doctors and couples can make informed decisions about whether to try to conceive unassisted or choose one of several medical approaches.

The results from the Cap-Score test can also be used in association with the traditional assessment methods to identify which men could benefit from treatment to improve their fertility. This might include changes in lifestyle, nutritional supplements or surgery.