One in five couples in the world consults a fertility specialist for their infertility. Although the causes of infertility are many, recent studies published in peer reviewed scientific journals have confirmed that about 50% of infertility recorded is due to male factor, mainly because of the quality of the sperm. We all have 46 chromosomes, our genetic imprint which orchestrates our daily activities, some more than others, leading to health concerns when one or more of the genes in any given chromosomes are impaired. It is now well established that the DNA material present in the head of the sperm is quite vulnerable to damage due to various environmental factors. Limited damage to the DNA material is corrected by the female egg at the time of fertilization. However, sperm DNA damage greater than 30% can impair proper development of the embryos and has been reported to contribute to implantation failure and pregnancy losses.
Currently, fertility clinics can perform sperm analysis providing the embryologist with kinetic parameters such as motility, morphology, velocity, sperm concentration and sperm count pr. sample. These analyses are done on either a standard scoring system (SSS) or on a computer assisted semen analysis (CASA). In some cases if the embryologists suspect that the sperm might have a high degree of DNA fragmentation the sperm sample is further analyzed. A DNA analysis can only be done on a stained sample of sperm and often the samples are often shipped away to another laboratory to analyze the DNA material in the sperm sample. Blindly injecting a sperm without knowing the status of DNA within the sperm can lead to implantation failure causing an additional burden for the patients that will have to repeat the fertility treatment. Also, by reducing implantation failure the public and private spending on fertility treatments will be reduced.
The CASPAR project team is now working on solving the challenges fertility clinics experience with finding the best spermatozoon. A complete computerized system finding the best sperm on the fly will represent a major improvement to the fertility clinics and its patients. The goal of the CASPAR project is to develop a tool and a method that takes the traditional semen analysis a step further. By combining the advanced data captured by scanning and pattern matching techniques, CASPAR will be able to detect, analyze and select healthy spermatozoa for further use in the fertilization process and thus increase the probability of a successful pregnancy.
We are now setting up a feasibility study to assess the viability of the project and will have the first preliminary within third quarter of 2016. This includes testing of specific techniques to capture images and to evaluate different methods for tracking cells in a live imaging environment. Also, by the end of first quarter 2016 we will have the first indications on the main research challenge; if there is a correlation between DNA fragmentation and the kinetic properties of the sperm. When we have the first datasets ready the next step will be to find algorithms that can be integrated with sophisticated imaging solutions and tracking methods.
Having babies is a simple and natural experience for most couples, but approximately 15% of couples in Europe and North America are infertile, which means that they aren't able to conceive a child even though they've had frequent, unprotected sexual inter course for a year or longer. For about half of these couples male infertility plays an important role. Many factors can influence on male infertility and it is often caused by problems that affect sperm production, quality and transportation. In a fert ility clinic, semen analysis is routinely performed as part of the standard operating procedures. Computer Assisted Semen Analysis (CASA) can measure some parameters such as volume, sperm concentration, motility and morphology. Based on the collected da ta the clinician can make some assumptions on the quality of the analyzed sample. However, there is currently no non-destructive method to identify potential DNA damage in a spermatozoon. Consequently the clinician has little or no information about the D NA quality in the spermatozoon that is actually selected for fertilization, e.g. using the intracytoplasmic sperm injection technique (ICSI) . The goal of the CASPAR project is to develop a tool and a method that takes the traditional semen analysis a ste p further. By combining advanced scanning and pattern matching techniques CASPAR will be able to detect, analyze and select healthy spermatozoa for further use in the fertilization process and thus increase the probability of a successful pregnancy. Th e method is based on the widely accepted fact that a spermatozoon's movement pattern is closely correlated to the degree of DNA damage in the cell.