Spermbot: Newly Developed Microscopic Robot Sperm Could Revolutionize Infertility Treatment

Rahul Srinivas - Author

Jan. 15 2016, Updated 2:46 p.m. ET

Researchers from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences at Dresden in Germany have developed something known as the spermbot, a remotely controlled sperm robot that could help create babies of the future. According to Russia Today, the German researchers have developed the spermbot, which is a magnetically powered robotic “suit” that can strap itself to individual sperm and help guide it faster towards the egg.

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The purpose of the spermbot is to solve one of the widely talked about causes of infertility in men — sperm with poor motility. While the development of the spermbot is in its early stages, this is already being touted as a promising alternative to existing techniques that according to doctors tend to be expensive and come with a high failure rate. These include popular, tried-and-tested methods like in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. According to Refinery29, only an estimated 30 percent of the traditional “spray-and-pray” approach ends up with success, which warranted the need for an alternative procedure like the spermbot. According to the report, initial experiments show a marked increase in the probability of the spermbot-assisted sperm to reach its intended destination.

The best part about the use of the spermbot is the flexibility it allows women. The process of fertilization can be completed inside the body or in the lab, inside a petri-dish.

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The spermbot is a coat of microscopic metal polymers shaped into a helix. It can attach itself to the tail of the spermatozoid, and then, using a hybrid micromotor, it can help propel the sperm faster towards the egg. The direction the sperm needs to take is controlled using a rotating magnetic field. In fact, even the motion of the sperm can be remote-controlled by simply adjusting this magnetic field. Once the spermbot propels the sperm towards the egg and the sperm manages to implant itself into the egg, the bionic part of the spermbot detaches itself from the tail. The video below shows how the spermbot would work.

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According to Mariana Medina-Sainchez, Lukas Schwarz, Oliver Schmidt, and their co-researchers who are the brains behind the spermbot research project, all the initial tests with the spermbot have delivered promising results.

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“Our results indicate that metal-coated polymer microhelices are suitable for this task due to potent, controllable, and non-harmful 3D motion behavior. We manage to capture, transport, and release single immotile live sperm cells in fluidic channels that allow mimicking physiological conditions.”

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While the initial experiments look promising, there is still some way to go before the spermbot technique becomes mainstream. To start off, scientists have very few sample size to correctly evaluate the results, and unless more comprehensive tests are carried out, it would not be possible to start using them on human subjects. Another major stumbling block in the way of the spermbot is the fact that currently there is no way to film the spermbot in action while it is inside the body. This also means that doctors would not be able to correctly direct it towards the egg. Another concern is the response of the body’s own immune system to the spermbot. To them, the spermbot is nothing more than an intruder. The use of the spermbot could trigger a reaction from the body’s immune system, the results of which cannot be predicted without comprehensive clinical trials.

Simply put, while the idea of the spermbot looks promising right now, it is still too early to call it a replacement to tried and tested methods like in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. In fact, it would take a few years for the procedure to be made available to patients – that is if clinical trials are successfully completed.

The news of the spermbot comes just a few weeks after the Inquisitr reported about the “sperm switch” that would allow men to turn off and on their fertility by simply flicking a switch inside of the scrotum.

(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)


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