Smartphones are getting scarily smart; with the right app you can catch Pokémon, meet someone to hook up with while catching Pokémon, cast spells, and chart your fertility cycle. Now, researchers are working on turning your iPhone into a mobile health center.
As a visiting fellow at the University of Illinois in Chicago, Japanese researcher Dr. Yoshitomo Kobori developed a way for men to test their sperm counts with only their smartphone cameras and a microscopic lens. One simply has to attach the lens to their phone, drop their sperm sample onto it, record a video of the activity, and send the footage off to a lab for analysis. It can be done from anywhere, and the lens is relatively inexpensive.
While the concept of deliberately putting semen on your phone might seem awkward, Dr. Kobori has said he came up with the idea because men prefer it. "Men are thinking that semen analyses are an embarrassment, inconvenience, disgrace, and waste of time," he said in a press release. "We need a semen test at home."
In an interview with Broadly, Dr. Gail Prins, a professor of urology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and director of the school's andrology lab, who also worked on the project, said there's also a need for discrete fertility tests for men stateside. Indeed, it's true that men hate going to the doctor. "Some men are embarrassed to bring up fertility. They think it says something about their manhood [if they are infertile]," she said. "Women don't have as much of an issue with having their fertility evaluated."
At-home fertility tests are also a matter of convenience, she added, as effective fertility tests have to be conducted at a specialized laboratory where sperm can be properly imaged. With Kobori's innovation, this is no longer an issue. "Not everybody lives next door to an andrology lab, or even within driving distance. Everybody has iPhone or a similar type of device," she said. "This gives everyone the opportunity to interact with a urology specialist, not just a general doctor who may not know the intricacies of fertility analysis."
"We've seen a lot of semen analysis reports from local hospitals that don't align at all with what we find out in our laboratory on the same patient. We think that there's a real need for people to get the proper semen analysis at the start, and this could be a mechanism for that," she said.
At her lab, Dr. Prins has been receiving videos of sperm samples that patients of Dr. Kobori's have snapped in clinical trials, though the invention isn't quite consumer-ready just yet. "We've compared this method to conventionally imaged sperm and we get comparable results," she said. "We can immediately tell if the count is in a range that is associated with fertility and we can immediately analyze how the sperm are swimming in a pattern that aligns with a fertility pattern. We're to the point where we feel confident that this could give an initial fertility assessment that points patients and doctors in the right direction."