New Study Will Examine Impact of COVID-19 on Sperm

Becky McCall

November 05, 2020

Norwegian researchers are set to investigate the effects of COVID-19 on the sperm of infected men and will compare their findings with those of control patients from a European study that has been ongoing for 20 years.

Leading the study is Cecilie Svanes, MD, PhD, a professor at the Centre for International Health, University of Bergen, Norway.

"The immune system is trained by infections of all kinds," said Svanes in a press release from the university. "We want to study how it is affected by COVID-19 and also if the infection has implications for future generations' immune systems. That is why we decided to study sperm in addition to whole blood."

This is the first study of its kind in humans, she said.

Svanes and her team will be studying messenger RNA to provide clues as to how genetic alterations due to infection might alter the production of proteins involved in the immune system and the potential knock-on effects on fertility or future offspring, for example via epigenetic changes, which affect how hereditary material is effectively read and understood.

To date, sperm samples have been collected from 50 patients aged 30 to 40 years with COVID-19, which will be compared with sperm from male participants in the European RHINESSA study as controls.

"If we find considerable negative changes in sperm, there is a possibility that we will advise people to wait before having children, for example, 1 year after a COVID-19 infection," said Svanes.

She explained that previous animal studies have shown that infections can affect the immune system of future generations in both positive and negative ways.

Medscape Medical News asked Svanes if there is any value in examining the female reproductive system in this respect.

"We are interested in women, too. However, collecting eggs from women is not feasible or ethical for this purpose, and we will have to study the female line in a different way," she explained.

Svanes has reported no relevant financial relationships.

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