A father holds his baby
A new test could revolutionise male infertility

Can a new type of fertility test help to dispel some of the mystery around male infertility? 

Around half of infertility issues are due to the male factor, but it’s often women who pursue a more detailed analysis of fertility issues. Women also undergo treatment more than men, regardless of whether the infertility is thought to be male or female factor, or unknown.

A new type of test could help to predict which men may have fertility issues, and bring more precision to the type of assisted conception used. In practise this may mean a wider variety of assisted reproduction solutions are open to heterosexual couples, rather than simply referring the female patient for IVF. 

Dr. Alexander Travis, professor of reproductive biology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health invented the test, known as the “Cap Score”. He explained that the test is designed to provide information on the man’s fertility that they would not otherwise have access to. This will enable doctors to discuss a range of treatments, and personalise a pathway to conception, which could include improving the male patient’s fertility. Of course, this test could also be used for any couple, for whom sperm health is a potential factor.

The Cap Score has been approved for use in all 50 states in the US. The diagnostic test measures the ability of sperm to undergo a process called “capacitation”, that enables it to successfully fertilise the egg. This is a different process to traditional fertility tests, which measure whether sperm look healthy and move normally. 

Dr Travis said “Fertility exists in degrees; as long as a man produces some sperm that swim, he has some level of fertility,” Travis said. “But it is the functional ability of those sperm to fertilise an egg that influences the odds that a couple will become pregnant.”

While traditional semen analysis provides some information, the Cap Score gives a fuller picture of an individual man’s fertility. The test measures whether the sperm are capable of fertilising the egg, rather than whether they are capable of swimming effectively, or whether they look healthy.

A lack of diagnostic testing for men can leave many couples in the dark about the cause of their infertility, or result in the female patient undergoing invasive – and sometimes disappointing fertility treatments. Clearer testing for male infertility is a welcome step forward for men who wish to take control of their infertility, and for women who are sometimes unfairly undergoing treatment for an undiagnosed issue on the male side.