An iPhone Microscope Attachment Could Help Men Test Their Sperm Count at Home

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Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi

Researchers from the University of Illinois in Chicago are working on a smartphone microscope attachment that would allow men to send highly magnified video of their swimmers directly to a urologist.

A third of infertility cases involve factors in men. There are over-the-counter sperm tests, but this technology claims to be similar to what you’d get at a fertility clinic and it could be less expensive. How does it work? You attach what’s known as a single-ball microscope (heh) to a smartphone camera. New Scientist explains the rest:

To do a home test, a man would have to wait for around five minutes after ejaculation for the semen to liquefy, then apply a small amount to a plastic sheet and press it against the microscope for inspection. This can be done without getting semen on to the phone, says Kobori.

The camera can then take a 3-second video clip of the sperm, for uploading to a computer. When viewed enlarged on a monitor screen, it is easy for someone to count the total number of sperm and the number that are moving – key indicators of male fertility. The team is also developing a phone app to do the analysis.

The researchers ran 50 semen samples through both their system and the software used in fertility clinics and got “almost identical results.” They presented their findings last week at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in Helsinki, Finland, and at the American Urological Association Annual Meeting in May.

The device already available in Japan, the home of one of the researchers, and they’re hopeful that a microscope will be available in other countries. There’s a different device approved for sale in the United States that’s like a mini-centrifuge to analyze sperm; you can reserve it now but it won’t ship until October, henceforth known as the dawning of the age of at-home sperm science.

Should You Take an at-Home Fertility Test?