'Spermbots' Key to Fertility Treatment in Future

The future is now: 'Spermbots' are here and they might be just what you need if you're trying to conceive to help the process of artificial insemination, IUI, along.

'Spermbots' Key to Fertility Treatment in Future Razvan Ionut Dragomirescu/Shutterstock

Low artificial insemination success rates? So 2015.

A new technology has arrived and it just might be the very thing you need in order to boost your chances of becoming pregnant via intrauterine insemination, or IUI. One of the main causes of infertility results when sperm can't swim well. Artificial insemination gives these sperm a bit of assistance, but with a success rate of under 30 percent, it's far from a sure thing. That's where this new development could come into play: Scientists have created "spermbots," which can help poor swimming (but otherwise healthy) sperm get to eggs more effectively.

Despite its unimpressive success rates, artificial insemination is a popular choice for those who struggle with infertility as it is a less expensive, less complicated alternative to in vitro fertilization, which involves the removal of eggs from a woman's ovary and fertilizing them outside of the body.

The future is robotic

Because neither of these common infertility treatments are ideal, scientists Mariana Medina-Sanchez, Ph.D., and Lukas Schwarz, M.Sc. and colleagues from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences decided to come up with a more effective method. They constructed tiny metal motors to fit around the tail of the sperm. The movement of these devices can be controlled, which means they can drive the sperm to the egg and release it.

Here's how it works.

Schwarz spoke with Fit Pregnancy about how this will affect fertility treatments in the future. "At the current stage of our research it is hard to predict the impact on current fertility treatment procedures," he said. "Our idea for the future that we want to promote is that, even in severe cases of infertility—like for example when there are no motile sperm cells—it might not be necessary to explant oocytes, but rather to let the assisted fertilization happen in its natural environment. By using micro motors to carry immotile sperm cells, we presented such a technique—it would be great if this could inspire other people to also work in this direction. I would like to stress that this should not always be seen from the unfortunate women's perspective—especially in our case, where we would only treat male infertility."

According to Schwarz, the team is still struggling with technical difficulties but are hopeful that this will be a significant breakthrough in fertility treatments.

Even more sperm technologies

This isn't the only recent innovation that could affect fertility treatment in major ways: Microscopic technology from Tel Aviv has emerged and may change the face of fertility treatments by increasing visibility of sperm. Because sperm cells are nearly transparent, it can be difficult to pinpoint the sperm cells with standard technologies—but this new technology could make it easier to identify the strongest swimmers. This new method, pioneered by Natan Shaked, Ph.D., can be used to bolster IVF and artificial insemination treatments.

"Until now, clinicians have chosen the 'best' sperm according to their speed, but speed is not necessarily an indicator of DNA quality," Shaked said in a news release. "Some of the best sperm candidates are slow or even immobile because their tails have malfunctioned. If we can better determine the full structure and composition of the sperm, the success rate of ART treatments will be higher. Success means more births without congenital defects. In cases where sample staining is impossible—such as in vitro fertilization and ICSI [intracytoplasmic sperm infection, or injecting sperm into an egg]—our device provides a promising new direction."

Related: Formerly Infertile—Becoming a Mom After IVF