A new test for male infertility will save time, money and heartache for couples around the world, scientists behind the discovery have claimed.
Queen's University Belfast said that more than a decade's research by Professor Sheena Lewis, who leads its Reproductive Medicine research group, had delivered a medical breakthrough.
The new test provides unique information by measuring damaged DNA in individual sperm to predict the success of infertility treatments and fast-track couples to the treatment most likely to succeed. The researchers said the so-called SpermComet test will cut waiting times and improve the chances of conception.
Prof Lewis said: "One in six couples has difficulty in having a family. In 40% of cases, the problems are related to the man. Until now, there have been few accurate ways of measuring a man's fertility. Traditionally, the diagnosis of male infertility has relied on semen analysis.
"This provides the basic information on which fertility specialists base their initial diagnosis. However, its clinical value in predicting male fertility or success with infertility treatment is limited, particularly if the semen analysis results are normal.
"The SpermComet test is so called because it looks just like a comet in the sky. The head of the 'Comet' is undamaged DNA and the tail is damaged DNA. From the tail of the 'Comet' we can measure exactly the amount of damaged DNA in each individual sperm."
She added: "Good quality sperm DNA is closely associated with getting pregnant and having a healthy baby, and the SpermComet test is the most sensitive test available for sperm DNA testing."
Prof Lewis, in partnership with Queen's venture spinout company, QUBIS, has now set up a new company to market the test, which is already available through a number of fertility clinics in Glasgow, Dublin and Galway.
QUBIS chief executive Panos Lioulias said: "As the number of infertile couples across Europe continues to increase by around 5% each year, the need for such a test has never been greater. The SpermComet is the most sensitive test available to help clinics tailor treatment specifically to the man's needs, bringing hope to millions of couples across the globe."
Queen's said Prof Lewis has been at the forefront of research in male fertility for the past 20 years. She has led the reproductive research team in Queen's University Belfast since 1995. She is Chair-Elect of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology's Andrology special interest group, the treasurer of the British Andrology Society, member of the executive committee of the British Fertility Society and past Vice-Chair of the Irish Fertility Society.