Date: March 9, 2005
CONTACT: Julie Toland, julie.toland@ttuhsc.edu

LUBBOCK – Samuel Prien, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and Dustie Johnson, a graduate student in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech University, have developed a device to improve the quality of semen used in fertility treatments.

A patent for the device, licensed with Embryonic Technologies, was issued this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patented technology encompasses the method of collecting sperm, as well as the container into which the sperm are collected.

“Traditional sperm collection methods consist of a plastic cup in a clinical setting,” Prien said. “We’ve tried to provide an environment which allows for a better- quality sample.”

In traditional collection methods, sperm cells are often “shocked” by pH or temperature changes. The new collection device features a more stable environment for the sperm with controlled pH levels, temperature and a collection of nutrients, creating an environment for the sperm cells that is similar to a male’s body.

A better quality of sperm cells will be beneficial for both medical and veterinary purposes. Prien noted that one in seven couples worldwide have infertility problems. “In the U.S., approximately 2 million couples are actively seeking treatment,” he said. “Currently, for artificial insemination purposes, male patients are limited to collecting semen in a clinic. This new device, however, will allow the semen to survive up to an hour, so the patient may collect in the home setting and later drive to the clinic.”

Improvements in artificial insemination will also reduce the need for couples to undergo the expensive process of in vitro fertilization, the next step when insemination doesn’t work. “In vitro fertilization costs $10,000 or more,” Prien said. “With this new technology, 10 or more attempts at artificial insemination can be made with one sample, thereby decreasing the likelihood that in vitro fertilization will be necessary.”

Johnson noted that the technology will bring benefits in animal insemination, as well. “Cattle breeding alone is more than a $1-billion-a-year industry,” she said. The technology also will be beneficial in horse breeding and dog breeding, as well as in other animals of superior genetics.

The new device will be available for use with cattle in mid-March or early April, and will be available for horses and dogs soon thereafter.

Prien said he hopes the technology will be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for human use within three years. “This technology is exciting in terms of what it can do for infertile couples, and the money generated by the product will come back to the university for more research,” he said.