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How Smartphones Can Actually Improve Male Fertility

It could be as significant as home pregnancy tests.Sciepro via Getty Images

A new smartphone app and device pairing created by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers is a cheap yet innovative way of analyzing sperm that could become as much of a game-changer for male fertility tests as the at-home pregnancy test was for women.

The method in question pairs a smartphone app with a specially-designed phone case containing multiple lenses which can magnify sperm samples (inserted into the device via a special tube and disposable microchip) in conjunction with an LED light.

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After the sample is loaded into the special casing, the Android app takes one-second videos of the semen. These snapshots can be used to determine a number of properties with extremely high accuracy, the researchers wrote in the journal Science Translational Medicine. That could have particularly useful implications for men who have recently had vasectomies and would rather not make repeated trips to the hospital to get their sperm counts.

“We have demonstrated that the smartphone-based semen analyzer can accurately measure sperm concentration, motility, total sperm count, total motile sperm count, and linear and curvilinear velocities using a small volume (<35 μl) of an unwashed, unprocessed semen sample loaded into a disposable microchip,” they wrote. “We developed an automated smartphone-based diagnostic assay with the potential to make male fertility testing as accessible, easy, fast, and private as pregnancy tests.”

Just how cheap and fast is the method? It returns accurate results in under five seconds, and could eventually be priced in the $50 range (it has yet to receive Food and Drug Administration clearance, although the researchers say they plan to pursue it).