A team of researchers from Germany have developed what could become a revolutionary treatment for male infertility — they build spermbots. The key is a tiny metal helix which
attaches to individual sperm cells, allowing them to move more effectively. You can ponder
of it like a prosthetic tail for sperm.
Male fertility issues are usually not related to having an unusually low sperm count, but to having sperm with low motility. That is, they don’t get around very well. Each sperm has a copy of half of a man’s genome in the “head” portion. The tail is in fact
a flagella with banks of energy-producing mitochondria to power its movement. If either the tail or power source don’t work correctly, a sperm cell will have trouble reaching and fertilizing an egg.
The researchers from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences at IFW Dresden were able to construct metal helices which
fit over top of the cells. The team utilized
3D laser lithography to create the helix, a system
can be utilized
to create almost any complex shape on the small scale. The helix is technically 3D-printed in plastic first, then covered with a layer of metal to give it magnetic properties. These nano-components gave scientists a way to interact directly with the sperm cells and move them around in solution.
Once a sperm cell is wearing its new prosthetic helix, a rotating magnetic field can be utilized
to drive the helix like a motor which
propels the cell ahead. Researchers have been successful in moving a sperm cell to a oocyte under laboratory conditions with this system. Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done before you could attempt this with people. Still, it might provide an alternative to in vitro fertilization, which is costly and far from a certain