What Causes Low Sperm Count? How AI Is Solving the Fertility Question

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The debate on what affects sperm count is ongoing, with conflicting studies on global decline. While some research suggests a significant drop in sperm quality since the 1970s, others pinpoint declines to specific regions. However, AI, particularly through tools like "SpermSearch," offers innovative solutions to male fertility issues. This technology aids in efficiently identifying healthy sperm, especially for those with non-obstructive azoospermia. As technology advances, AI's role in healthcare, beyond fertility, continues to expand.

Male fertility has been a topic of discussion in recent years, mainly because of the debate about lower sperm quality. Since the 1970s, researchers have been delving into the question, “What kills sperm count?”

Enter artificial intelligence (AI), speeding up how we can study and assess the question — one program called SpermSeed can offer a sperm diagnosis 1000x quicker than an embryologist.

Yet, the real question is if sperm counts are even dropping at all. While some studies suggest a global drop in sperm count, others argue that the decline is specific to certain places.

As this debate continues, the urgency to find solutions grows. Enter the realm of modern technology.


What Kills Sperm Count? Exploring the Debate on Declining Sperm Quality

In the 1970s, doctors C.M. Kinloch Nelson and Raymond Bunge observed that more men sought infertility treatment at their Iowa clinic. Their research showed a decline in sperm quality compared to earlier studies (Nelson and Bunge, 1974).

Since 1974, many other studies have looked at this issue – but it’s hard to compare them because of different factors like age, lifestyle, and geographical location. Some large-scale analyses suggest a significant global drop in sperm count since the 1970s, but this is debated among researchers.


For example, a paper published by Auger et al. (2022) states:

Overall, available data do not enable us to conclude that human semen quality is deteriorating worldwide or in the Western world, but that a trend is observed in some specific areas.

On the other hand, meta-analyses published by Levine et al. (2017 and 2022) indicated a 50% decrease in sperm concentration since the 1970s, especially in Western countries.

What kills sperm count: male sperm counts 1974 vs. 2018

Addressing the Decline: The Role of Technology

Amid concerns about what kills sperm count and possible drops in sperm quality, finding new solutions for fertility issues is vital. As experts study sperm health, tech offers fresh answers, with “SpermSearch,” a new development in fertility assistance, being one part of the jigsaw.

SpermSearch: AI’s Role in Boosting Male Fertility

SpermSearch was showcased at the 30th annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (2023) and is looking to change how embryologists find and get healthy sperm from testes. The algorithm brings hope to men who want a biological child but have no sperm in their semen, especially when concerns about factors that might kill sperm count are rising.

About 1% of men have no sperm in their semen, a severe infertility condition called non-obstructive azoospermia (NOA). This affects 5% of couples looking for fertility help.

Currently, such patients have a part of their testes removed to extract sperm. This sperm is then used to fertilize the partner’s eggs using the Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) treatment. Finding sperm in the tissue can take up to six hours, making it hard for embryologists due to fatigue while chasing down contamination from other cells and particles.

However, SpermSearch quickly spots possible sperm, speeding up the task and making it more precise. In trials, the AI found sperm much faster than experts and had a 5% higher accuracy rate.

The Methodology

The team trained the AI with machine learning using thousands of microscope pictures, mainly of sperm. This helped the AI learn to spot sperm on its own. The researchers then used sperm and tissue from seven men aged 36 and 55. All these men had been diagnosed with NOA and had undergone surgery to retrieve sperm. They provided unused tissue samples from their treatment for the study.

The team tested the AI and an embryologist simultaneously, with the embryologist’s accuracy assumed to be perfect. They checked how fast and accurately each could identify sperm.

While the embryologist identified 560 sperm, the AI spotted 611. Together, they detected 688 sperm.

Stunningly, the algorithm identified sperm for each area of the droplet that it viewed in less than a 1000th of the time taken by an embryologist.

Moreover, the AI was more precise, finding 50 additional sperm and being 5% more accurate in each sample area than the embryologist.

Lead author, PhD candidate Dale Goss, said, “This tool can give patients with very little chance of fathering their biological children an increased chance.

“The algorithm improves antiquated approaches that have not been updated in decades. It will ensure the rapid identification of sperm in samples, which will not only increase the chance of a couple conceiving their biological children but also reduce stress on sperm and increase efficiency in the laboratory.”

From Fertility to Pharma: How AI Tackles Sperm Count and Beyond in Healthcare

The decline in sperm quality and other health challenges highlight the need for new solutions. As experts try to understand what kills sperm count and overall sperm health, technology offers hope since AI is making a big difference in healthcare. It’s helping with fertility issues, speeding up drug research, improving cancer care, and helping doctors.

One standout example is the work by IBM and Oxford University, where they used AI to create antiviral drugs in much less time than the usual 12-year process. But there are also concerns, from intellectual property rights to drug safety.

Cancer is another area where AI is involved. It’s tough because it’s not just one disease – AI is helping to diagnose it, treat it, and keep an eye on patients after treatment. Ethical considerations, including data quality, privacy, and consent, remain paramount.

Tools like ChatGPT are also helping in healthcare. They help doctors with their work, make it easier to talk to patients, and help with research. However, the medical community needs to be able to trust these tools – so they have to be sure they are working correctly, fair, and safe.

The Bottom Line

In the quest to understand what kills sperm count, researchers have presented varied findings, making it a topic of ongoing debate. While aspects like our surroundings, how we live, and our health play a role, there is still no clear answer.

However, there’s good news. The emergence of technology, especially AI, is helping the healthcare field, with tools like SpermSearch revolutionizing how we approach male fertility issues, offering faster and more accurate solutions.

As research divulges more detail on sperm health, it is clear that mixing research and technology is the way forward to shape the future of male reproductive health.


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Maria Webb
Technology Journalist
Maria Webb
Technology Journalist

Maria is a technology journalist with over five years of experience with a deep interest in AI and machine learning. She excels in data-driven journalism, making complex topics both accessible and engaging for her audience. Her work is prominently featured on Techopedia, Business2Community, and Eurostat, where she provides creative technical writing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours in English and a Master of Science in Strategic Management and Digital Marketing from the University of Malta. Maria's background includes journalism for Newsbook.com.mt, covering a range of topics from local events to international tech trends.