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Conception Chances Magnified by Giant Sperm
They are 15 centimetres long with heads as big as 10¢ pieces — and they've never been seen on this scale.
Fertility specialists at IVF Australia have developed technology which magnifies human sperm by 7300 times its normal size - about 18 times larger than they have ever been seen.
The digital imagery gives scientists their clearest picture yet of which sperm are most capable of fertilisation.
The technique is being used to help men whose partners have experienced repeated infertility or miscarriages due to DNA damage to sperm or significant morphology problems, such as sperm with oddly shaped or multiple heads.
Some sperm appear normal when magnified 400 times, the largest magnification previously available, but when blown up 7300 times, it is clear their heads have tiny holes in them where the chromatin, or DNA, is housed. This makes them unable to fertilise an egg.
The medical director of IVF Australia, Peter Illingworth, said the imagery was a breakthrough for couples struggling with sperm problems.
''Our experience has shown this technique produces more fertilised eggs, more embryos to transfer or freeze, and a significantly higher pregnancy rate than was possible before.''
The technique has been tested on a group of couples who failed to achieve a pregnancy in 34 cycles of treatment. Once scientists were able to magnify the sperm, 22 further cycles produced eight pregnancies.
''And in that group of pregnancies, there have been no miscarriages," Associate Professor Illingworth said.