Sticky spermatozoa may hold the key to greater success rates among couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. IVF is a procedure in which scientists inject spermatozoa, commonly referred to as sperm, into an egg. Researchers from the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England, will participate in the largest clinical trial of this nature to date, which started in late October of 2013. The trial will test a new IVF treatment that chooses only sticky sperm for injection into eggs.

The IVF method in the pilot study uses only sperm that sticks to a specially coated plate for injection into an egg. The coating contains hyaluronan, a naturally occurring substance that doctors use as a therapeutic lubricant in the knee, for example, and manufacturers of cosmetics use in anti-aging creams. For some reason, some sperm stick to hyaluronan and this sperm seem more likely to fertilize an egg.

Only healthy sperm with little to no DNA damage sticks to this plate. The scientists hope to establish whether the new selection procedure will minimize the risk of injecting sperm with damaged DNA into an egg.

Dr. David Miller, lead author of the trial and member of the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Leeds, said: “It is fascinating that a substance with such strong lubricating properties should be sticky for some, but not all, sperm. We think that this paradoxical property is what gives only mature and healthy sperm with little or no DNA damage the ability to latch on to the coat that surrounds the egg.”

Researchers hope to study 3,700 couples in the United Kingdom. The trial kicked off on the first day of National Infertility Awareness Week in the UK. Clare Lewis-Jones of Infertility Network UK, the patient charity behind National Infertility Awareness Week said: “We are always pleased to hear about any new research which might help patients who are struggling to conceive and we look forward to hearing more about the progress of the trial. It’s not always easy to have a baby and we welcome new advances which may increase success rates of fertility treatment.”

Source: "Sticky sperm could hold fertility key." University of Leeds. 28 Oct 2013. Web. Retrieved 14 Nov 2013.