Infertility is a rapidly growing global health issue with far-reaching socioeconomic impacts. The success rates of treatment through assisted reproductive technologies has plateaued at ~33% per cycle. Our focus is the development of microfluidics – a mature technology in other biomedical areas – in male infertility diagnosis and treatment. This effort is made possible through close collaboration between our engineering researchers and collaborating urology and clinical fertility experts.
High-Quality Sperm Selection for Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ARTs)
Worldwide, 11-15% of couples experience problems with fertility. Most of these couples will turn to Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ARTs) in order to conceive. All of the various ARTs require that a semen sample be purified to select live sperm and remove seminal fluid and dead cells. The current techniques employed for semen purification involve centrifugation which has been shown to cause DNA damage which in turns decreases the success rate of ARTs. A microfluidic device has been designed to simulate the in vivo environment and use natural sperm behaviour to select sperm with high quality DNA for ARTs. To validate the design various tests are conducted in partnership with the Zini Urology Lab at McGill Hospital and with the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. We are also continuously studying sperm behaviour in order to best utilize their natural motility to select the best sperm.
In the developing world, cost is a major hurdle in providing centralized healthcare to the population. Many people also reside in remote or rural areas where access to centralized testing facilities is limited, if they are available. We are developing low cost and easy-to-use microfluidic devices for point-of-care testing to address these gaps. Our work to date has focused on engineering blood-based sample collection and processing devices (e.g. hand-powered membrane pump and milliliter-scale blood filtration unit), as well as integrated testing devices (e.g. lab-in-a-pen). To validate the diagnostic utility of our devices, field testing is conducted in Vietnam at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases. The synergetic collaboration with the Hospital has not only enabled the development of useful devices, but also furthered our understanding of the needs of the end-user from their viewpoint. In other efforts, we are leveraging nanoscale transport phenomena to develop paper-based diagnostic assays with advanced functionality.