For couples hoping to start or expand their families, it’s surprisingly common to experience infertility issues at some point. Approximately 12% of couples today are completely infertile, with one in 10 couples in the U.S. having trouble with conceiving a child.
The causes behind infertility problems vary widely. About one-third of infertility issues come from the female partner; another one-third come from the male partner. The remaining one-third of infertility problems come from a combination of both partners’ fertility problems or is unable to be explained.
To more easily diagnose these problems in men, scientists recently developed a new form of sequencing the genetic information in sperm cells to determine whether or not a man is infertile. The discovery could help couples save valuable time and money by avoiding fertility treatments that may not work.
According to The Verge, scientists can read the RNA of sperm cells to pinpoint fertility issues. If a man’s sperm cells lack specific RNA sequences, the man will have a much lower likelihood of being able to conceive than a man whose sperm does contain these sequences. Sperm RNA, therefore, could be used as a sort of fingerprint for male fertility, the findings, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, suggest.
Seeking fertility treatments can be a very costly undertaking for couples. The average cost of in vitro fertilization, for example, hovers around $12,400. With RNA sequencing, fertility clinics would be able to tell their patients whether or not to save their money by skipping certain approaches.
While there is a wide variety of diagnostic tests available for women, current fertility tests for men simply consist of examining the sperm’s movement, volume and concentration — yet even sperm cells that look like the ideal specimen aren’t necessarily going to be successful at fertilization. It’s for this reason that RNA sequencing proves to be so promising.
“Current methods don’t really provide great information on the chance of natural pregnancy or what may be causing abnormal sperm production,” explained Peter Schlegel, a professor of urology at Cornell University who wasn’t involved with the study. “There certainly is a potential need for this method.”