June 06, 1991

Article at Reuters

Discovery may allow a fifth of infertile men to father children

The new sperm micro-injection technique allows viable sperm to be extracted from men whose semen suffer from low mobility

By Wilson da Silva

SYDNEY – A medical technique developed in Australia may allow one-fifth of all infertile men to father children, researchers said on Thursday.

Known as sperm micro-injection, it involves taking viable sperm from men whose semen suffer from low mobility or who have low sperm counts, and injecting it through the outer shell of a woman’s ovum, or egg.

The procedure is conducted in a test tube, and the successfully fertilised egg is later re-inserted into the woman’s womb. Both, when joined, form a foetus that then gestates normally.

First discovered by Monash University in Melbourne four years ago and only recently clinically applied, the technique can be used on an estimated 20 per cent of all infertile men.

These are men with low sperm counts or poor sperm mobility and who cannot conceive through in-vitro fertilisation, or test-tube impregnation. Some 20 per cent of infertile men can do so. It is not understood why the remaining 60 per cent of men cannot conceive.

Dr Alan Trounson and Dr Ismail Kola of the university’s Centre for Early Human Development, who discovered the technique, gave details of their results in the annual report of Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council.

“Couples who would previously have had to rely on donor sperm can now use in-vitro fertilisation technology to have children who are genetically their own,” Kola said.

Since the discovery was first published, the team has worked with groups throughout the world to develop a safe method of applying the technique in a clinical environment. This was perfected in Melbourne and other cities late last year.

Success rates of around 10 per cent, reached in early trials, had been boosted by subsequent research, Trounson said.

“We have now got the fertility success rate up around 40 to 50 per cent which means that women have an excellent chance of getting pregnant,” Trounson said. Several infertile men in Britain, France, Italy and Singapore had fathered children by this method, Kola said.