Contrary to the belief that sperm ‘swim’ their way to fertilize an egg, scientists at the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick have conducted a study using sperm cells and ‘micro-thin hairchannels’ similar to that of a female vagina, uncovering new evidence as they watched sperm crashing, colliding, bumping and flying off walls instead of swimming their way to the egg.
Literally ‘crawling’ along the walls, researchers led by Dr Petr Denissenko, of the School of Engineering at the University of Warwick, and Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown, lead in reproductive biology at the University of Birmingham observed them through a microscope on their erratic journey, exploring what properties distinguish the tens of cells which make it to the egg from the millions of sperm cells ejaculated.
"When the channel turns sharply, cells leave the corner, continuing ahead until hitting the opposite wall of the channel, with a distribution of departure angles, the latter being modulated by fluid viscosity"
“In basic terms -- how do we find the 'Usain Bolt' among the millions of sperm in an ejaculate. Through research like this we are learning how the good sperm navigate by sending them through mini-mazes”
From the study, the researchers found two key points that could help couples having fertility problems trying to conceive.
- How are the millions of sperm selected down to around ten that reach the oocyte? (egg)
- Can we use a similar method to select sperm for fertility treatments?
Using the research they found, Dr’s from both Universities are now developing a study that looks at why particular sperm can navigate their way through the female reproductive track without crashing, bumping and colliding of walls and what makes them stronger than others. With this research scientists will be able to provide a new insight into in-vitro fertility treatment (IVF) whereby they may be able to pre select the ‘good’ sperm at the very beginning of the process to give couples the best chance of conceiving.
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