What Is A Sperm Sorting Chip?


Infertility is a problem that can occur in both men and women. Thankfully, there are treatment options that can help to address many of the causes of infertility. Those that fall under the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) option require retrieval of healthy sperm and eggs so they can be combined in a laboratory setting to create healthy embryos. These embryos are then transferred into the woman’s uterus in hopes of implantation occurring and pregnancy being confirmed. 

The use of a sperm sorting chip comes in when trying to select the healthiest sperm in terms of morphology, motility, genetics and physiology. These healthy sperm can then be used in ART procedures to create healthy embryos.

Why Sperm Selection 

Infertility in men that makes it difficult or impossible to naturally conceive a child can present in various ways. It could be due to blockages that interfere with the delivery of sperm, low sperm production, or abnormal sperm function. There could also be illnesses, injuries, and other factors that are impeding healthy and natural reproduction. 

While age can be a factor in fertility issues, even young people are not immune to them. It is estimated that one in five healthy men between the ages of 18 to 25 years have abnormal sperm counts and have about 5-15% of their sperm being considered normal. 

Normal sperm density ranges from 15 million to more than 200 million sperm per millilitre of semen. A man is considered to be having a low sperm count when he possesses less than 15 million sperm per millilitre. Those with less than 39 million sperm in total per ejaculate may also be considered to have a low sperm count. At least 60% of the sperm should also have a normal shape and be able to move forward normally.

When a man has a low sperm count, it can affect the fertility of the couple as this make it more difficult for the woman to become pregnant. 

Infertility in men can be caused by various factors including poor general health, genetics, tumours, use of certain medications, certain infections, and past surgeries. Having a low sperm count can however often be rectified through such interventions including lifestyle changes, use of medication, counselling, hormone treatments, and surgery. 

Sperm Retrieval 

Sperm retrieval is carried out during ART treatments. This is typically done through masturbation. However, if not possible, other methods like testicular aspiration can be used to extract sperm directly from the testicle. This is usually done under local anaesthetic and typically takes a few minutes where there are no blockages to contend with. Where there is no sperm or if the sperm is of too low quality, the couple may opt to use donor sperm. 

For couples that resolve to undergo ART treatments, the use of the microfluidic sperm sorting method is a good way to separate healthy sperm from a sample which will increase the chances of being able to create healthy embryos. Here is why using this technology can make for better chances of IVF success compared to other options for the pre-treatment of sperm. 

Sperm Sorting Chip Method

Where you have sperm samples where there is a low sperm count and a low percentage of the sperm having poor morphology and motility, it becomes necessary to find an effective means of separating healthy sperm so they can be used in ART treatments. 

For a long time, procedures such as sperm washing, swim-up, and gradient centrifugation were used to separate healthy sperm for this purpose. They allowed for healthy sperm to collect at the bottom of test tubes. However, these processes were found to be damaging to sperm and time-consuming. They increase the risk that DNA strands may break into pieces, damaging even healthy sperm where there may be limited supply. 

The sperm sorting chip method facilitates a gentler and more natural means of sperm selection. During the procedure, only fast and healthy sperm can get past sorting chips that possess specialised grooves and micropores. 

The Sperm Sorting Chip is made up of two chambers with a fluid connecting channel. The sperm sample is injected into the inlet for the first chamber. The sperm then travel through the fluid connecting channel where a microporous membrane is used to filter out poor sperm. The process takes about 30 minutes, allowing for the best quality sperm to travel into the second chamber while undergoing incubation. 

The design of the membrane mimics that of the cervix in the uterus, allowing for a more natural process for sperm selection. The sperm that make it through are considered the best quality and can then be used for ART procedures like IVF treatment in Bangkok and artificial insemination. 

Benefits of Sperm Sorting Chip method

Separating healthy sperm

This procedure allows for easy separation of healthy sperm from the rest of the sample. This provides a sample of healthy sperm that can increase the chances of successful fertility treatment. This procedure ensures sperm samples with the highest motility, normal morphology and minimal DNA fragmentation. 

No sample preparation

Unlike other sample preparation procedures, this process can take place as soon as the semen sample is collected and without the need for pre-treatment. There is no need for further transfer into different containers before using the chip, helping to reduce the risk of contamination. 

Simple process

The Sperm Sorting Chip method is easy to carry out. The kits are user-friendly and produce rapid results. It can be carried out as soon as the semen sample is brought to the lab, reducing the risk of too many sperm dying. Just the injection of the sample into the first chamber and allowing for selection to occur. 

Minimal damage

High-speed centrifugation has often been used for selecting and separating healthy sperm for a long time. This action, however, tends to cause damage to the delicate DNA strands in sperm, reducing the number of healthy sperm that are retrieved. 

Easy monitoring

The kit size is small enough that once you have injected the sperm sample, you can place it under a light microscope to monitor the process. This provides a simple and efficient means of ensuring the procedure is progressing as expected.