Male Fertility Issues: New Genetic Test

By No specific author (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a new genetic test being used on sperm, which could help determine if a couple needs to seek reproductive assistance to conceive a baby. According to research findings that were published in Science Translational Medicine, males who lack important RNA elements may have a lower chance of being able to naturally conceive a child.

The Study

Doing an RNA analysis of a potential father’s sperm can pinpoint whether a couple should skip less invasive fertility intervention or go forward with assisted reproductive technology (ART). A couple may need to have a woman’s egg combined with sperm in a lab environment to achieve conception.

The lead author of the study is Dr. Stephen Krawetz and he is a professor of fetal therapy and diagnosis, as well as the associate director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan. He states, “The absence of one or more of the RNA elements was indicative of those who would be successful by ART, which is a more invasive technique, versus those who would be successful by timed intercourse or intrauterine insemination, which is less invasive.”

Approximately 13 percent of couples will face fertility struggles and there are a wide array of different tests available for women. However, what is being done for men?

Fertility testing in men is currently limited to physical examination of sperm movement, volume and concentration. To get a better idea of the quality of sperm, Dr. Krawetz and his team of researchers studied couples who had been able to conceive a baby naturally by having intercourse on the days a female was most fertile.

Upon testing, the team found a man’s sperm had a set of 648 RNA elements that were highly important to male fertility. Many of these elements corresponded to genes involved in the development and motility of sperm, as well as fertilization of an egg and embryonic formation.

Researchers then looked at 96 couples who seemed very healthy, but who weren’t able to conceive naturally. The team investigated an RNA analysis of the men’s sperm and then did a series of invasive fertility treatments for the couples. It was discovered that most males did not have a complete set of RNA elements. However, this did not mean the couples could not conceive, it just meant they would need some sort of medical assistance.


It is a move forward to try and identify the issues that lead to a man’s contribution towards conception. One of the leading experts in the field of reproductive medicine feels the field of male infertility is in desperate need of a biomarker like this and that not enough emphasis is placed on males.

Although the trial was small, involved a specific group of participants and did not include a random control group, the results are still quite promising. While there is great hope for RNA analysis, the procedure it very time consuming and costly, but it gives new hope for finding out more information about how sperm quality could influence infertility.


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