Scientists capture first 3D movie of living sperm

A team of scientists from four separate European institutions have developed a vision-based tracking system that may provide physicians with a technique to help assess the viability of sperm used in in vitro fertilization (IVF).

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A team of scientists from four separate European institutions have developed a vision-based tracking system that may provide physicians with a technique to help assess the viability of sperm used in in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Sperm cell mobility is a key predictor of IV success, in 3D and over time, according to The Optical Society. This system is able to take 3D movies of the real-time movement and behavior of living sperm using a JAI CV-M4 monochrome progressive scan camera. The 1.4 MPixel CV-M4 features a 2/3” monochrome CCD image sensor with a 6.45 µm x 6.45 µm pixel size and 24 fps frame rate. It also features a Camera Link interface and a C-Mount lens.

In addition to showing the movement and behavior of the sperm, the camera is able to provide 3D imaging of the sperm’s form and structure to detect potential infertility-causing anomalies, such as the “bent tail,” which prevents cells from swimming straight. Current processes for monitoring sperm concentration and mobility are assessed by subjective visual evaluation or a process known as computer-assisted sperm analysis, which only allows for tracking and imaging in two dimensions.

With this newly developed method, researchers combine microscopy and holography to visualize live sperm in the same two dimensions (x and y positions) as well as their depth (z position), and a fourth dimension, which is time, suggests the lead author a research paper on the project, Giuseppe Di Caprio of the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems of the National Research Council (NRC) in Naples, Italy, and Harvard University.

The method was developed by first separating laser light into two beams and transmitting one beam through a dish containing live swimming sperm cells, and then recombined it, after magnification through a microscope, with the second beam.

"The superimposed beams generate an interference pattern that we can record on camera," Di Caprio said in the press release."The resulting image is a hologram containing information relative to the morphologies of the sperm and their positioning in three-dimensional space. Viewing a progressive series of these holograms in a real-time video, we can observe how the sperm move and determine if that movement is affected by any abnormalities in their shape and structure."

The next step for the team, according to Di Caprio, will be to attempt to exploit the capabilities of the system for defining the best quality sperm for IVF.

View the press release.
View the research paper.

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