Until recently, we have evaluated male fertility in a similar manner as Anton van Leeuwenhoek first did in 1677, by looking at sperm under the microscope, when he reported his findings of seeing sperm to the Royal Society. He described what he saw as “animalcules” less than a size of a grain of sand with “thin undulating tails”. His belief was that each cell held a smaller version of a human, that when born, would grow into a normal sized person. Although our understanding of the sperm cell has come a long way since then, our approach to assessing male fertility really has not significantly progressed until recently. Although we certainly know the basic evaluation of the bulk semen parameters such as semen volume, sperm count, motility (ability to swim), and morphology (normal appearance) are important, they are just the basics. The sperm beauty contest under the microscope, so to speak, speaks very little about sperm function.

We have learned about the importance of the DNA within the head of the sperm cells impacting fertilizing capability, pregnancy, and live births, the assessment of which is offered at Westlake IVF’s andrology laboratory (read more on sperm DNA). We are also learning about the impact of oxidative stress and their products, reactive oxygen species, and their impact on sperm function and DNA.  At Austin Fertility & Reproductive Medicine/Westlake IVF, we are in the midst of a clinical trial evaluating the practical impact of oxidative stress on the semen and potential impact on a couple’s fertility. Using the MiOXYS system analyzer, static oxidation reduction potential is being assessed. We are specifically offering enrollment in the clinical trial for men who have varicoceles (abnormal dilations of veins around the testicles, well known to impact male fertility) to assess their levels of oxidative stress and compare results to after the men have their varicoceles repaired.  We hope this gives us further insights to help us understand which men need treatment of their varicoceles, as 40% of men with subfertility have varicoceles. Dr. Parviz Kavoussi states, “This is a very exciting step in the process of further understanding the impact of varicoceles on male fertility, and getting more data to help us understand the impact of oxidative stress in the semen on male fertility.”  Although the primary goal of the team at Austin Fertility & Reproductive Medicine/Westlake IVF is providing fertility care to patients with a standard of excellence, the opportunity to be involved with research to help advance the knowledge in the field for treatment of subfertile patients is of great interest as well.