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Sperm Motilility and Spermbots

A spermbot, developed in Germany, is an artificially motorized sperm. It involves a micromotor wrapped around the tail of an immotile sperm, which helps propel it towards an egg for fertilization. To date, it’s only been tested in the lab, but researchers say human trials are a future goal.

“It’s a nice idea, but I’m not sure what problems it will solve clinically,” says Dr. Paul Turek. “The question is, ‘Why is that sperm not moving and what does that mean?’ It assumes that the sperm is perfectly healthy and that it just needs help moving to and attaching to the egg.” In those instances there is already a way to obtain and use the sperm -- with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). “In terms of labor and involvement in the fertilization process it’s just as complex as ICSI and its true indications are going to be few and far between.”

Motility issues are the most common problem in the semen of men who are infertile, says Turek, a urologist and director of the Turek Clinic in San Francsico and Los Angeles. Motility issues are seen in older sperm and when there are genetic issues, but the most common causes are varicocele and toxins. “The most common cause is a varicocele, which is a vein in the scrotum. In about 40 percent of men who are infertile, that can heat up the testicle and cause motility issues,” Turek says.

“What I think about when I see low motility in an isolated way is toxins,” Turek adds. It raises the questions: What is this man exposed to? What is he eating? What is his lifestyle like? What is he smoking? What is he drinking?

Motility is the most variable thing in the semen analysis. If you get a minor insult to the testicle the motility may drop. If you get a major insult, count and motility may drop. Short exposures, and frequent exposures in a hot tub will drop the motility, for example. But more chronic, frequent exposures would drop count and motility. When exposure is discontinued, motility generally responds quicker than count.

The best single treatment, if you don’t know what’s causing low motility, is a good antioxidant supplement, Turek says. And while motility problems are the most common among infertile men, they are probably the most treatable. “The biggest and best advice is healthy lifestyle. Take great care of yourself.”


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