Nick Mulcahy

May 07, 2016

UPDATED WITH VIDEO May 10, 2016 // SAN DIEGO — A magnifying glass about the size of a quarter added onto a smartphone camera could fundamentally change the way male infertility is screened by allowing men to provide sperm samples at home, according to a proof-of-concept study.

For many men with suspected infertility, going to a clinic's lab and producing a sperm sample is "humiliating," said Craig Niederberger, MD, a urologist and bioengineer at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), who is senior author of the study on the device, known as the men's loupe.

"Male infertility is hard, and this makes one of the hardest parts a whole lot easier," he said during a press conference here at the American Urological Association 2016 Annual Meeting.

Dr. Niederberger explained that if the device is ultimately successful, men with fertility issues will be able to upload home video of their sperm sample for analysis.

The microscope is the brainchild of Yoshitomo Kobori, MD, from Dokkyo Medical University Koshigaya Hospital in Tokyo, who invented the device when he was a fellow at the UIC Innovation Center.

Dr Kobori tried multiple devices that did not work before settling on a smal, ball microscope that is used by Japanese children to look at specks of dust, pollen, small bugs, and other tiny things, he told Medscape Medical News.

The men's loupe

The magnification of the single-ball microscope (550 times) is greater than that of a light microscope (400 times), which is the technology currently used to evaluate sperm.

And the toy costs about $5, said Dr Niederberger.

The device has an interesting historic continuity. A Dutch scientist, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, first discovered the spermatozoa in 1677 using a single-ball lens microscope that he had invented, Dr Kobori explained.

For the smartphone microscope, a single-ball lens 0.8 mm in diameter is inserted into a plastic jacket that attaches to the phone.

In their study, the researchers analyzed semen samples (approximately 20 μL) from 45 American and Japanese men with the smartphone device and with the current standard computer-assisted semen analysis software (SCA HUMAN, version 5.2).

The distance between the single-ball lens and the smartphone camera was 1.5 mm. Motile and static sperm were counted on the computer screen connected to the smartphone.

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The correlation between results from the smartphone microscope and those from the computer-assisted semen analysis was "very strong" for sperm concentration (r = .89; P < .01) and sperm motility (r = .74; P < .01).

The researchers used three different smartphone models (iPhone 5S, iPhone 6S, LG Optimus) to take pictures and video clips of the semen samples. The iPhones performed best, Dr Niederberger reported.

The resulting images are remarkable. "You can see the caps on the heads of the sperm," Dr Niederberger said, adding that light microscopes do not typically provide that level of detail.

Dr Kobori and his colleagues plan to harness the microscope to software that would calculate quantity and assess the quality of the filmed sperm. They are working with Tenga, a Japanese company that has already created software to automatically analyze sperm, akin to the semen analysis software.

The device could greatly reduce the cost of infertility testing, said press conference moderator Eugene Rhee, MD, a urologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. Currently, sperm analyses are done at highly specialized labs, are costly, and are "generally not covered by insurance," he explained.

You can see the caps on the heads of the sperm.

Dr Rhee said he believes the technology could also be used by men who have undergone vasectomy to monitor their semen counts for peace of mind. That could be a bigger market than infertility, he said.

Clinicians can expect to see the device in a couple of years if all goes well in subsequent clinical studies and with the US Food and Drug Administration, said Dr Niederberger.

University of Illinois at Chicago will be the eventual patent holder on the microscope. The study authors and Dr Rhee have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Urological Association (AUA) 2016 Annual Meeting; Abstract MP93-03. To be presented May 10, 2016.

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