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Male Fertility Testing? There’s An App For That

The smartphone-based semen analyzer can be used to test for male infertility from the privacy of one’s home. The 3-D printed setup, which costs less than $5, can analyze most semen samples in less than five seconds. (Vignesh Natarajan/Science Transl/PA)MoreCloseclosemore
The smartphone-based semen analyzer can be used to test for male infertility from the privacy of one’s home. The 3-D printed setup, which costs less than $5, can analyze most semen samples in less than five seconds. (Vignesh Natarajan/Science Transl/PA)

Dr. Hadi Shafiee noticed something around his hospital: Men were avoiding the urologist.

Urologist colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital told him that men were hesitant to come in for fertility tests, because it can be stressful and time consuming.

So Shafiee and a team of Brigham and Women's researchers developed a smartphone device that can test semen samples with up to 98 percent accuracy, according to a new study in Science Translational Medicine.

“We wanted to come up with a home-based male infertility screening that can be used by couples who are trying to conceive but they are not successful, and under so much stress to find out who has the problem and how to move to the next step for treatment,” he says.

While some home fertility tests for men are already available, Dr. Shafiee’s device is apparently the first to piggyback on smartphone capabilities.

The smartphone-based semen analyzer can be used to test for male infertility from the privacy of one’s home. (Courtesy Brigham and Women's Hospital)
The smartphone-based semen analyzer can be used to test for male infertility from the privacy of one’s home. (Courtesy Brigham and Women's Hospital)

His team’s method uses an optical attachment that attaches to the smartphone like a case. You then load a semen sample onto a small strip, that then slides inside the attachment like a card reader. It's then analyzed through an app within seconds.

Dr. Shafiee says it could be beneficial for doctors, too: “It's going to increase their patient flow, because there are so many people who don't know that they have seminal quality issues,” he says.

So let’s say a man uses the test and the sample falls into the “abnormal” category. It won’t give him a diagnosis, as a doctor would — it’s simply meant for screening, to raise a red flag. He would still have to follow up with a doctor.

While it might save a man the stress of providing a sample onsite at the clinic, couldn’t a man just bring in a sample to the clinic from home?

“But that's so inconvenient,” Dr. Shafiee says. “You have to go home and immediately you have to bring that to the clinic. Because the more time that passes after ejaculation, the more chances you have for the cells to die, and motility to go down.”

For men who are not struggling with infertility, Dr. Shafiee says the device could be used for more casual purposes.

“I can just envision that a lot of guys would love to just look at their sample and see how many sperm they have or how fast they move around,” he says.

The device costs less than $5 to assemble, he says, and he expects that it would cost less than $50 as an over-the-counter product when it reaches the market. "Obviously, our first mission is to get the FDA approval,” he says.

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