German scientists are on a path that sounds like its been taken directly from a shelved Matrix script: microscopic, magnet-controlled bots that are meant to act like the Segway of the fertility world. Just hop on and point yourself in the direction you want to go while something else does all the hard work for you in order to get you to your destination. Spermbots may not yet be available outside of the experimental lab stage, but they are presenting an interesting possibility for how male infertility might be treated in the not-too distant future.
Did You Know?
- Researchers from Integrative Nanosciences in Dresden, Germany, have developed a mechanical device to help slow-swimming sperm reach the egg.
- A ‘spermbot’ is a helix-like microtube made from titanium and iron nanoparticles only 50 microns in length. By comparison, a millimeter is 1000 microns.
- These experimental tubular bots are designed so that one end is slightly larger than the other. Sperm can swim into the tube, but not out.
- The tail of the sperm (known as the flagellum amongst the laboratory crowd) is left free to help where it can in propelling the sperm.
- Scientists can then control the direction and speed of the spermbot using an external magnetic field, guiding it to the egg.
- In the United States 15 percent of couples have fertility issues, with approximately half of those couples’ problems stemming from the male side of the equation.
- To date, spermbots have only been tested in the lab using bovine sperm and eggs. Fertilization has yet to be achieved.
- Before human trials begin researchers are trying to find a way to film the spermbot in action inside the body so they might better steer the bot towards the egg.
- While still years away from practical use, spermbots may one day provide an alternative to expensive treatments such as in vitro fertilization.
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- Cover Image: DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b04221, American Chemical Society