During the 1950s and 1960s, new techniques were developed to separate sperm from semen and capacitate them, which enabled couples to participate in intrauterine inseminations. In 1978, the first in-vitro fertilized (IVF) baby was born. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that techniques were developed tested to help men with very low sperm counts. These techniques have had a large impact on the treatment of male-related infertility.
Causes of Male Infertility
Simply put, infertility results from any problem or disorder that prohibits or prevents the sperm from reaching and fertilizing the egg. Common disorders include poor sperm production by the testicles, blockage of the passageway that carry sperm out, destruction of sperm by forces in the female tract, or inability of the sperm to recognize and fertilize an egg.
A very common cause of male infertility is something we refer to as poor motility. This simple means that the sperm cells’ natural means of movement are impaired in some way. Luckily, poor motility doesn’t mean that the sperm is unfit or damage in some way. Consequently, many treatments aim to deliver the DNA package via other means. Thus, we can restore that sperm’s capacity of fertilizing an egg.
The main goal, then, is simply to aid the sperm in reaching and fertilizing the egg. When a man has a low sperm count, but the sperm is good, we can help by making the distance the sperm must travel shorter. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) places a sperm sample half way up the female reproductive tract, meaning that the sperm has to do much less work to reach and fertilize the egg. More recent and advanced reproductive techniques, like Gamete intra-fallopian transfer (GIFT) and IVF, takes them largely the entire distance they would have to travel otherwise, making conception that much easier.
By decreasing the distance, the minimum amount of sperm, which The World Health Organization say is at least 20 million sperm, also decreases. Because male infertility often occurs when the numbers are less than this, this means the required distance decreases so substantially that only about 10 million are needed for IUI and 1 – 2 million for GIFT or IVF. As you can see, these treatments have make it much easier to achieve conception, helping tens of thousands of couples worldwide to become parents.
Even still, some men don’t produce enough sperm for GIFT or IVF, and some men don’t produce any sperm due to blockages or a lack of development of the sperm passageway. This is why, in 1992, a technique called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) was first used to help four couples have babies. By using micromanipulation, this technique allows doctors to take a single sperm and fertilize a single egg. This means that if a man produces any sperm, no matter how much, he is capable of becoming a genetic father.
You Can Be a Genetic Father
We are lucky to live in a world where we have treatments to overcome almost all forms of male factor infertility. From andrology to technology, improvements have been made that enable infertile men with any viable sperm to become genetic fathers. For the few men who never made or no longer make any viable sperm, the remaining options are to use donor sperm or adoption to become parents. Judging by the rate of progress over the past two decades, it is likely that there will eventually be treatments available for these men also. If you would like to learn more about male factor infertility, contact us today.
Learn about ICSI, a male factor infertility treatment.