In vitro fertilization (IVF) refers to procedures that assist with the fertilisation of an embryo. IVF involves the collection of eggs from the ovaries and subsequent fertilisation by sperm and is carried out in a laboratory setting. Once the process is complete, the fertilised egg is transplanted into a uterus with the goal of embryo development. The entire IVF cycle usually takes two to three weeks.

Chances of success?

The success of IVF depends on multiple factors, including age and the reasons for infertility. Since IVF is an expensive process, costing over $10,000 on average, it is important for the procedure to be as efficient as possible to reduce the need for multiple IVF cycles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 12% of women in the US aged 15–44 years have difficulty becoming pregnant. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that more than 10% of women are infertile or experience subfertility. Male infertility is also a contributing factor, as the National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that 40% of infertility cases are due to male infertility.   

Putting microfluidics to work

Recent advances in IVF include the development of devices that increase the success rate for IVF. Researchers at Stanford University, US, developed a device that can select for healthy sperm to be used in IVF. The device, named Simple Periodic Array for Trapping and Isolation (SPARTAN), and is based on the principle of microfluidics. While several microfluidic devices already exist, these platforms are complicated and often require pumps or chemicals that can be damaging to sperm. 

Microchip obstacle course

The SPARTAN system uses a series of obstacles on a microchip, requiring sperm to swim around pillar-shaped objects and through the device. As a result, this device promotes the collection of the highest quality sperm. Another advantage of this procedure is that raw, non-frozen samples are used, thus maintaining the integrity of fresh sperm. Authors of the study indicate that the overall selection process is very short (around 10 minutes) and results in 99% of collected sperm being highly motile. Additionally, the collected sperm have enhanced morphology and DNA integrity compared to sperm collected via other methods. The lead researchers who published their results on the SPARTAN device in 2017 have since become a part of ZyMot Fertility, a division of DxNow, Inc. In 2018, the company received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for sperm separation devices based on the SPARTAN technology. 

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