Sperm motility research for human fertility studies

A human sperm cell imaged on 3 planes simultaneously...

A human sperm cell imaged on 3 depth (Z) planes simultaneously using our 3D imaging technique.
We will use this to study how the tail is coiled in 3D and how the sperm cell swims.

One in six couples experience difficulties conceiving, with male factors present in approximately half of all cases. The major factor affecting natural conception is probably ability of sperm to reach the egg, with only 8-20 sperm from over 200 million ever reaching the egg even in fertile couples.

As yet there is no successful drug treatment targeted to improve male fertility. The best hope for rational therapy will derive from a detailed understanding of sperm energetics and this can only be achieved through detailed analysis of the sperm's swimming dynamics.

This programme will provide detailed 3-dimensional movies of swimming sperm, offering new insights into sperm dynamics that will enable next generation individualised diagnostics and the rational screening of new drug treatments.

Programme goals

This exciting programme of research is funded by STFC and began in November 2009. Through this work we will apply techniques and equipment originally devleoped for astronomy and metrology to aid human fertility research. We aim to:

  1. Demonstrate that our multiplane imaging system can deliver 4D images of swimming sperm and fallopian-tube cilia activity with a spatial (3D) and time resolution suitable for detailed motility studies.
  2. Develop basic algorithmic methods for the extraction of 3D and 4D specimen information from the 4D-images described above.
  3. Transfer knowledge required to exploit these techniques to a our collaborators; human-fertility researchers and the SME who provides technical support to that group.
  4. Design and demonstrate a system for adaptive-optical correction of fixed aberrations in the high-NA microscopy of thick samples.
  5. Design and demonstrate diffractive optical elements for the correction of depth-dependent aberrations in microscopy.

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Life Sciences Interface