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Sperm Inspection Chip Technology Invented by NTU for Household Use

The sperm inspection chip invented by Institute of Applied Mechanics Professor Andrew M. Wo for household use attracted widespread attention. The research team members included Dr. Ju-Ton Hsieh from NTU Hospital's Department of Urology, and Dr. Fang-Sheng Tsai from the Department of Urology of Tao-yuan Hospital.

Origin and Purpose

Urologists in their daily clinical treatment of patients are surprised by the high prevalence of male infertility (10-15%). As male infertility casts profound and far reaching impact on the individual, his family, the society as a whole, and even mankind, urologists are thus enticed to search for solutions. The quality of the sperm has been found to be the main reason for male infertility. As sperm quality varies with the individual patient's age and life style, burning the midnight oil and excessive work pressure tend to lower the quality of sperm. However, current sperm inspection methods either require the patients to take the trouble to commute to hospitals to do inspection, or the household use types can only provide limited information and are generally cost prohibitive. Therefore, under the support of the National Science Council, Dr. Ju-Ton Hsieh, an urologist from NTU Hospital, and Dr. Fang-Sheng Tsai, an alumnus of NTU who now serves as the Director of the Department of Urology at Tao-Yuan Hospital, collaborated with a research team led by Institute of Applied Mechanics Professor Dr. Andrew M. Wo to develop a sperm inspection chip which is low-priced, easy to operate, and precision based. When the new product chip is successfully launched, the general public will be able to inspect their sperm quality in the convenience of their homes.

Existing Products

The obtainable sperm inspection products available on the market can be roughly divided into two types: the staining method and the microscope method. The former uses staining technology to mark the number of sperms with different shades of colors. Products of this method are FertiMarq and Fertell. FertiMarq only provides information about the sperm count, whereas although Fertell can diagnose the number and mobility of the sperms, the interpretation of its results tends to be subjective, and can only tell the user whether the sperm count has exceeded the WHO standard (20 million/cc), but cannot take one step further to differentiate the results of the inspection. For instance, the user often has difficulty understanding whether his sperm count is just above the standard or way above the standard. In addition, as the number and mobility of sperms change with time, the staining method does not lend itself to the long term tracking of the quality of sperms. On the other hand, the microscope method is very inconvenient for the average user, as it requires a trained professional to operate the inspection.

The market size

A rough estimate puts the market size of sperm inspection products in the United States at around U.S. $348 million, and U.S.$ 6.4 million in China, U.S. $496 million in European Union and Japan. On the whole, every year the market size can reach up to U.S. $900 million globally.

Sperm Quality Inspection Chip for Household Use

The new chip under development aims to provide comprehensive analysis of the concentration and mobility of the human sperms to assess their quality, while protecting the users' privacy. The testing results are shown by matching different colored lights to the quantitative data, thereby avoiding possible mistakes resulting from subjective interpretation. Additionally, the data acquired from sperm inspection can be utilized by the user to do long term tracking on the change of quality of their sperms, so they can fully grasp their own physical condition and the best timing for conception. The simple operation procedures allow the user to use the product easily, and are expected to be as simple as one-touch operation. In essence, this new product is low cost, easy to operate, reliable to a certain extent, and suitable for household use. At present the chip is in the incubation stage, having the feasibility of the concept tested in laboratories. In the future the finished product is expected to consist of an instrument equipped with a chip. The instrument requires only the simplest circuitry judging by the strength of Taiwan's electronic industry, ordinary users should be able to purchase this instrument easily. The projected method of inspection involves the user to put the inspection chip into the instrument, acquire the sperms, and then drip the sperms into the instrument. The instrument will automatically kick off to give readings on the quality of the sperms by displaying different colored lights (red stands for low quality; yellow stands for medium quality; green stands for better quality). From the display of the colored lights users get to know the quality of their sperms with no hassle, as it takes only 10 minutes to acquire the results (not counting the 30 minute time required for pre-test semen iquefaction).

The prototype of this new chip can be completed in about a year's time. Once the chip is modified and reaches the mass production phase, clinical tests can be held. NTU hopes that application for product inspection can be filed in two years time, so that the new chip can be launched onto the market as soon as possible.

Chinese version