Male home fertility tests: Inconceivable?

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 The great Virginia motivational author Napoleon Hill famously said, “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Ah, but what if a man and woman don’t believe they can achieve when they conceive? 

An interesting fact about Professor John Herr’s SpermCheck Fertility test? The lines that identify sperm counts are made from colloidal gold. “When people realize that, there’s always that little ‘Eureeka!’ moment,” says Herr.

“The way infertility works right now, it’s still assumed to be ‘a woman’s problem,’” says John Herr, professor of cell biology at the University of Virginia and developer of the SpermCheck Fertility test. “I’ve always thought about it—since we conceived of it—as something that would bring more gender equity into the infertility testing space.”

With SpermCheck currently under review by the Food and Drug Administration and swimming its way to shelves in Europe, Herr spoke with C-VILLE about the product’s development. The SpermCheck Fertility test will sell for around $25, and lets a user know whether his sperm count is normal (20 million go-getters per milliliter of semen) or very low (5 million or less per milliliter). 

“Now, you may ask yourself ‘Why haven’t there been home tests for males before?’” asks Herr. (I asked him, instead.) “Well, the answer is, somebody had to find a biomarker for sperm.” 

The search for the golden protein, SP-10, took Herr and colleagues roughly 17 years, between 15 and 20 papers plotting incremental steps, and at least one batch of mice with green grapes to make sure that SP-10 was testis-specific. It was, and—thank you very much, UVA Patent Foundation—Herr’s team is noted as the discoverer of the first testis-specific biomarker and its use in counting sperm.

Unlike the home pregnancy test, the male fertility test requires a few steps—including a 20-minute semen liquification period, and a buffer to release SP-10 from the sperm. But, says Herr, “We had a range of people of various educational backgrounds…and everyone was able to do it. 

“It’s doing a little mini-experiment at home,” he adds. Ah, what the mind of man conceives!

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