Infertility is a problem of rising prevalence, affecting around one in seven couples, with male factors contributing to approximately half of all cases. 

These problems are becoming more prevalent in the UK due to couples trying for a baby later; fertility problems are if anything more important in the developing world, due to social stigma, lack of access to treatment, and may appear as an unintended side effect of important efforts to provide women with the means to control their fertility. 

Marathon journey

Despite the prevalence of male factor problems, treatment options directed at sperm factors are very limited, and diagnostics are generally limited to manual counting, resulting in a reliance on invasive, expensive and often ineffective treatments focused on the female partner, such as IVF and ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection). 

The job of a sperm is complex, requiring navigation, a marathon journey to the egg, and delivery of a healthy and intact cargo of DNA, which will form half the genetic material of every cell of the resulting baby. 

Novel therapies

To improve diagnosis of sperm problems and to support the development and monitoring of novel therapies based on lifestyle changes and supplementation, we need to bring 21st Century technology to the fertility clinic.

This University of Birmingham project is led by Professor Dave Smith, Professor of Applied Mathematics, with fertility expert Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown. It is funded by EPSRC through a Healthcare Technologies Challenge Award and supported by the Centre for Human Reproductive Science at Birmingham Women's Hospital, of which Dr Kirkman-Brown the scientific lead, is developing a new approach to fertility treatment based on high-speed digital imaging, using mathematical algorithms to analyse and interpret the movement and shape of cells, and integration of patient data. 

The ultimate goal is a diagnostic approach to support better treatment decisions and healthier sperm, improving conception rates and leading to the birth of healthy babies.