WASHINGTON, March 22 (Xinhua) -- U.S. researchers said Wednesday they have developed a low-cost and easy-to-use smartphone device that can accurately measure semen quality in seconds.
More than 45 million couples worldwide are affected by infertility, but current standard methods for evaluating semen quality, which require testing in a clinical setting, are expensive, labor-intensive and slow to return results, according to the study published in the U.S. journal Science Translational Medicine.
"Men have to provide semen samples in these rooms at a hospital, a situation in which they often experience stress, embarrassment, pessimism and disappointment," Hadi Shafiee, principal investigator at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, said in a statement.
"We wanted to come up with a solution to make male infertility testing as simple and affordable as home pregnancy tests."
In the new study, Shafiee and colleagues created a portable device that quantified sperm concentration and motility in seconds, using the processing power and camera found in widely-available smartphones.
The analyzer, assembled for a total materials cost of less than five U.S. dollars, consists of an optical attachment that can connect to a smartphone and a disposable microchip onto which a semen sample can be loaded.
The researchers analyzed 350 specimens, demonstrating that the device was able to detect abnormal semen with either insufficient sperm concentrations or low levels of motility with an accuracy of 98 percent.
"This test is low-cost, quantitative, highly accurate and can analyze a video of an undiluted, unwashed semen sample in less than five seconds," said Shafiee.
What's more, the test was so user-friendly that 10 volunteers with no formal training correctly classified more than 100 semen samples.
Study co-author John Petrozza, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center, called the ability to bring point-of-care sperm testing to consumers or health facilities with limited resources "a true game changer."
"More than 40 percent of infertile couples have difficulty conceiving due to sperm abnormalities," Petrozza said. "This development will provide faster and improved access to fertility care.... we have really been able to create a product that will benefit a lot of people."
The researchers said the smartphone-based fertility test could be also used by men to monitor their semen at home after undergoing vasectomies or by animal breeders to confirm the virility of a sample.