Infertility hope: Men who struggle to conceive 'still have healthy sperm'
The sperm of infertile men may be as healthy as those who are fertile, British scientists have discovered in a breakthrough that offers hope to families struggling to conceive.
Researchers found some men may only be infertile because their sperm becomes damaged after it travels through a series of ducts. It suggests something odd and toxic is happening along its path to the outside, but the sperm are healthy so long as they are extracted directly from testicles.
The discovery offers hope for men who struggle to become fathers even through IVF, as well as hinting at a new cause of male infertility.
Jonathan Ramsay, consultant urologist at Imperial College London, said: "When we looked at ejaculated sperm, we found the extent of sperm DNA damage was much higher in infertile men than in fertile men, with roughly 15pc in fertile men, but 40pc in infertile men.
"It wasn't a surprise to see greater DNA damage in ejaculates of infertile men. What we didn't expect was the consistency in these results when we looked at sperm taken directly from the testicles of infertile men.
"We found that it was of similar quality to that of ejaculated, fertile sperm."
In research to be presented today at the European Association of Urology Congress in Barcelona, UK scientists took testicular and ejaculated sperm samples from 63 infertile men.
They examined the sperm for DNA strand breaks in both the testicular and ejaculated sperm and matched it to semen taken from a group of 76 fertile volunteers.
The sperm was measured using the Comet Test, a technique developed by Queen's University Belfast, now run by spin-off company Examen Lab.
Although there was a major difference in the ejaculated sperm in the infertility group, the sperm from the testes was found to be similar to that of the control group.
Prof Sheena Lewis, Emeritus Professor, Queen's University Belfast and founder of Examen Lab Ltd, said: "This opens the way to taking sperm directly from the testes of men who have highly fragmented ejaculated DNA and failed cycles of treatment. We can't yet prove this sperm DNA damage is the main cause of male infertility, or using testicular sperm directly would help improve their chance of getting pregnant, but the work certainly points in that direction."