• Local researchers develop device to help treat male infertility

    By: Bob Dumas

    Updated:

    DEDHAM, Mass. - Successfully treating infertility can take years, and the focus of therapy is often on women. 

    Research and inventions created at Massachusetts universities are now focusing on men in hopes of achieving better and faster results for couples. 

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    “Women tend to be ingrained, it will be our fault, it is our fault," Dr. Carol Anania, of Fertility Solutions in Dedham, said. 

    Anania said that in up to 40 percent of the cases, the problem with conception can be traced to the man.

    It’s estimated that about an eighth of all couples in the United States can have trouble trying to conceive. 

    Liz Treganowan Watson is currently pregnant with her second child through in vitro fertilization. It hasn’t been easy. She and her husband experienced what’s known as "unexplained infertility." 

    “So, in the beginning you do a lot of tests. There’s blood work involved. There’s ultrasound. There’s pretty invasive testing . . . then at the end of the test, there’s no answers," she says. 

    Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute have created a device known as Spartan.  

    “It is basically an obstacle course to find the fastest and best sperm cells for use in in vitro fertilization applications,” explained WPI Professor Erkan Tuzel.   

    This small and relatively simple device isn’t much bigger than a nickel, but it is able to isolate the best sperm with less damage than traditional methods.

    “We wanted to come up with a passive technique where the sperm cells are not subjected to any large forces,” said Tuzel. “The objective would be to come up with improved infertility solutions so that these processes take a shorter amount of time with better success rate."

    Getting a sample is a process unto itself, one that many men dread. 

    “To freeze your sperm is one of the most awkward and uncomfortable experiences that you can have as a man,” said Khaled Kteily, an entrepreneur who has developed Legacy, a startup at the Harvard Innovation Lab that is trying to make the sperm donating process less onerous. 

    Legacy is a kit that a subscriber receives at home. It allows him to perform all the necessary functions there instead of at a clinic. 

    “We use a special cup that is insulated in a certain way to keep the sample at room temperature," Kteily explained. "The other thing that we do is we add what's called a buffering medium to the sample that basically keeps it viable for up to 48 hours.” 

    This new approach comes at a time when research shows that male infertility is rising.  

    “What I am trying to do with Legacy is to get it to the point that men are talking as normally and as confidently about sperm freezing as women today talk about egg freezing,” said Kteily.

    Treganowan Watson is happy that more focus is being put on issues that men might face in the quest to have a child.  

    “Yes, the more research that is done, then yes, hopefully the fewer cycles that need to be done, the fewer tests, and more knowledge, to get the final outcome,” she said. 

    The Spartan device recently received FDA approval, but hasn’t been clinically tested for its efficacy. Tuzel told Boston 25 News a similar device available in Europe is estimated to be responsible for 10,000 births.

    Legacy offers clients three different packages starting a $1,000.

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