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Now sperm can have a health check-up.

Childless couples who have filed for years to start a family may benefit from a new test developed by doctors at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Microsperm penetration assay (micro-SPA) is a modified version of the standard test that measures sperm quality in men with low sperm counts. "The micro-SPA is a valuable diagnostic tool for assessing the sperm's health," says Dr. Larry Lipshultz, a professor of urology at Baylor. "It is a reliable test that may help us better understand the man's role in infertility."

One out of six American couples are infertile, many of whom have no history of reproductive disorders. In half of these cases, the problem is attributed to male infertility.

In the micro-SPA, hamster eggs are paired with the patient's sperm in a specially designed test tube. Results are based on the number of sperm that penetrates each egg. Dr. Lipshultz says that, unlike other routine fertility tests, the micro-SPA provides doctors with useful clues on sperm function. "For example, a semen analysis will only tell you the number and movement of sperm, but not if the sperm are capable of fertilization," he says.

Surgery or medication is usually the next step in improving sperm quality and its ability to travel from the testes to the egg. However, assisted reproductive techniques--such as placing sperm into the uterus-- can be an alternative if medical and surgical treatments are ineffective. Although these new treatments can be beneficial, they can be time-consuming and costly.

"The micro-SPA helps us determine if the sperm is capable of in vitro (in a test tube) fertilization," says Dr. Lipshultz. "Couples who take the micro-SPA before entering an in vitro fertilization program may save themselves unnecessary anxiety, time and money." The SPA's predictions are fairly accurate, he says, although no fertility test is 100 percent successful. In many cases, it is just a matter of time.

"It takes some perfectly healthy young couples under age 30 six months to a year to get pregnant," he says. "If a man or woman has had surgery or injury to the reproductive tract or suspects a problem, they should get an early checkup from their urologist or gynecologist, respectively."
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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