Over 1 million couples seek fertility care each year in the U.S. Within this group 200,000+ IVF cycles are performed annually.
If you are considering IVF, there is no shortage of testing and information you can go through on the female side. What’s missing is a solid grasp of the male’s role in IVF success. Even after fertilization, an embryo can fail to develop because of genetic problems on the male side.
“Failure to implant, poor embryo development, and even miscarriage, could all be the result of male factors.”
If a couple goes to see a fertility specialist, the male partner(s) will do a semen analysis. The semen analysis is the standard first tool for checking male fertility. This test is looking at sperm count, motility (movement), and morphology (shape).
It’s a valuable tool, but when it’s the only test done on a man it promotes an outdated view of the male role in conception. The semen analysis only focuses on sperm production to fertilization.
If a sperm can fertilize an egg, the male’s role is finished, right? Any problems from then on are happening in the female’s body, so the problem must be hers.
To understand just how wrong this is, you need to understand how an embryo forms.
First, sperm and egg cells combine into a single cell with half the DNA of each parent. The information provided in the DNA is used to guide the fertilized egg as it divides, over and over, forming a highly-developed fetus.
The male still has an active role in embryo development through his DNA. Abnormalities in his sperm DNA could be complicating or causing fertility problems at every stage of embryonic development. Failure to implant, poor embryo development, and even miscarriage, could all be impacted by male factors which are missed by the semen analysis.
Without understanding that a problem may be originating on the male side, couples can sink a fortune into the wrong treatment approach, as well as have unrealistic expectations about the chances of success.
A couple has unexplained infertility, but a semen analysis shows the man’s sperm looks normal, so they rule him out. They try IUI three times. Fail. Fail. Fail. They are committed and move on to IVF. IVF fails. IVF with ICSI fails. At this point they might move on to an egg donor or even a surrogate. It still fails. At this point they stop trying and are left without answers or a child.
Some version of this happens in more cases than you might think and the problem may have been on the male side all along, undetected by a semen analysis.
Sperm DNA Testing
A new sperm DNA test, Seed, is the first of its kind. Seed looks at 480,000 regions on sperm DNA to find abnormalities which cannot be identified with a semen analysis. These abnormalities are used to create a personal profile of a man’s risk for poor sperm function and poor embryo development. It also highlights any abnormalities in genes with a known role in fertility.
For example, the gene CATSPER1 is well documented and essential for sperm to enter the egg during fertilization.
Another gene, MIR223 is believed to be important for embryo implantation. While the ID3 gene is crucial for proper embryo development.
Seeing abnormalities in specific genes can help a doctor understand where problems may occur.
To get a complete picture of male fertility, you need to look beyond semen parameters. Seed discovers problems at the level of DNA that affect sperm function, helping you understand your risk for an unsuccessful cycle and identifying factors that may affect success.
Fertility treatment is an expensive and emotionally difficult process. Don’t make it harder by acting without enough information. If you are considering IVF or have been diagnosed with unexplained infertility, talk to your fertility specialist about Seed.
About the Author:
Alan Horsager is Co-Founder and CEO of Episona, a reproductive health company which offers a new sperm DNA test, Seed. You can visit Episona.com to learn more.