HOW AI COULD HELP TREAT MALE INFERTILITY

LONDON. Infertility affects seven percent of the male population. 

Now artificial intelligence (AI) may be about to help solve the problem.

Dr Steven Vasilescu says that the AI software developed by him and his team can spot sperm in samples taken from severely infertile men 1,000 times faster than a highly trained pair of eyes.

“It can highlight a potentially viable sperm before a human can even process what they’re looking at,” he says.

Dr Vasilescu is a biomedical engineer at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), in Australia, and founder of medical company NeoGenix Biosciences.

The system he and his colleagues have developed is called SpermSearch.

It has been designed to help men who have no sperm in their ejaculate at all, 10% of infertile men, a condition called non-obstructive azoospermia (NOA).

Usually in these cases, a small portion of the testes is surgically removed, and taken to a lab, where an embryologist can manually search for healthy sperm.

The tissue is teased apart and examined under a microscope. If any viable sperm are found, they can be extracted and injected into an egg.

This process, says Dr Vasilescu, can take multiple staff six or seven hours, and there is danger of fatigue and inaccuracy.

“When an embryologist looks down the microscope, what they see is just this complete mess – a starscape of cells,” he says.

“There’s blood and tissue. There might be only 10 sperm in the whole thing, but there can be millions of other cells. It’s a needle in a haystack,” says Dr Vasilescu.

He says that, by contrast, SpermSearch can find any healthy sperm in seconds, when photographs of the samples are immediately uploaded into the computer.

To achieve this speed, Dr Vasilescu and his colleagues trained the AI to identify sperm in these complex tissue samples by showing it thousands of such images.

In a published scientific paper, the UTS biomedical engineering team said that in a test SpermSearch was 1000 times faster than an experienced embryologist.

However, SpermSearch is not designed to replace embryologists, but rather to act as an assistive tool. BBC.

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