New Tech Transforms Smartphones into Portable Fertility Testing Devices

Smartphone-based Automated Semen Evaluation 2

Image credit: Science Translational Medicine, 22 Mar 2017

Smartphone semen analyzer: Siemens would have made a catchy wordplay with this technology. Unfortunately, the company is no longer a major player in the consumer mobile market.

There’s a new technology that works with smartphones to evaluate male fertility easily and inexpensively. With an accuracy rate of around 98%, it is bound to make it unnecessary to go to a clinic to have a man’s reproductive fluid tested for fertility. It’s like a pregnancy test kit for men—easy to use, portable, and with adequate accuracy level. Even better, this technology does not need any special training to operate and will likely be sold at an affordable price since its total manufacturing cost is reported to be only $4.45.

Automated Smartphone-Based Semen Analysis

This new technology was presented in detail through the journal Science Translational Medicine, in a paper prepared by Manoj Kumar Kanakasabapathy, Magesh Sadasivam, Anupirya Singh, Collin Preson, Prudhvi Thirumalaraju, Shehata Draz, Hadi Shafiee, Maanasa Venkataraman, Charles Bormann, and John Petrozza  of  Harvard Medical School.

This semen analysis technology designed to work with a smartphone involves the use of a disposable microchip and an attachment and a contraption to attach it to a smartphone (basically an oversized smartphone case). The prototype used by the group had a contraption created through 3D printing. This was designed to fit a number of phone models including LG G4, Moto G4, and Moto X.

The prototype case (contraption) comes with an LED, a duo of lenses taken from the pick-up heads of a DVD drive, battery, and a dock for the microchip aligned to the smartphone’s rear camera.

The disposable microchip is attached to a small container intended to hold 35 microliters of semen.  This small container can then be slid into the case under the smartphone, facing the rear camera.

Automated Semen Evaluation

Image credit: Science Translational Medicine, 22 Mar 2017

How It Works

As mentioned, this semen testing technology is completely easy to use. The ejaculate or semen just needs to be put into the small container with the microchip so it can be tested. The container will then be slid into the case to be examined by the smartphone’s camera with the help of the lenses on the case and the microchip. The design of the case and the microchip (along with its container) ensure proper alignment to have a well-lit semen sample and proper alignment of lenses.

There’s a special app created to handle the testing process. This app takes one-second 30fps videos and processes each frame. Through the images obtained, the app is able to determine sperm count and evaluate their motility.

Accuracy and Limitations

As mentioned earlier, the researchers achieved an accuracy rate of 98%. Based on the 350 sample tests conducted, it was found that 307 of them were abnormal or had a sperm count lower than 15 million per milliliter, in accordance to the standards set by the World Health Organization). This 307 figure is close to the actual number of 303 “abnormal samples” as determined using traditional seminal testing methods. That yields an accuracy rate of 98.697%.

This mobile testing technology, however, is far from perfect. For one, it is incapable of detecting deformed sperms, something that is critical to the determination of fertility. Also, the system can wrongly count sperms if there are debris included in the sample being tested. According to the researchers, this miscounting problem can be solved eventually as the hardware and software are upgraded. However, the ability to find deformed sperms is not going to be easy.

For Those Trying to Have or Are Avoiding to Have Children

Globally, it is estimated that there are over 30 million men who suffer from fertility problems. Most of them likely don’t have easy access to fertility clinics. This invention offers the advantage of fast and convenient testing anytime and anywhere the user prefers. On the other hand, it is also useful for those who want to make sure that their reproductive control methods are working. Males who have had vasectomies, in particular, are encouraged to use this to make sure that the procedure really succeeded.

Smartphone-based Automated Semen Evaluation

Image credit: Science Translational Medicine, 22 Mar 2017


Unfortunately, it may take years before this technology becomes available to consumers. This is because the makes of this technology still has to obtain the approval of the United States Food and Drugs Administration before they can start commercializing it. For now, though, the researchers are satisfied with the progress they have made with the device. “Its ability to accurately identify abnormal semen samples based on sperm concentration and motility can potentially shift the paradigm in male infertility management in both developed and developing countries,” they said.