Sperm DNA damage – Why good quality sperm are essential to getting pregnant and having a healthy baby

By Prof Sheena Lewis

04-06-2021



Over the past couple of decades, many clinics and couples across the globe have been using sperm DNA quality as a valuable tool to diagnose male infertility and as a guide to help choose between IVF or ICSI fertility treatments. In a recent review, internationally respected Laureate Professor John Aitken gave a clear reason why checking sperm DNA quality is important to matters beyond getting pregnant: to minimise the risk of childhood disease.

The Examen team has investigated the impact of sperm DNA damage in male fertility, miscarriage and Assisted Reproduction Treatment (ART) for almost three decades. Exact® sperm DNA tests are offered by 80% of the UK & Ireland’s leading private fertility clinics to make the best treatment recommendations for their patients. Good quality sperm DNA improves the chances of getting pregnant. It also alerts couples to poor quality sperm and allows them to take steps to improve it before ART. This, in turn, gives couples the best chance of having a healthy baby. DNA is what makes your baby look and act like you, and as 50% of your baby’s DNA comes from each parent, it makes sense that sperm DNA has a significant impact on the development of a baby.

Prof Aitken is an international leader in reproduction research and has spent his career investigating male fertility and the role of sperm DNA. In this recent paper, co-authored with Hassan Bakos and published in Human Reproduction, he reviews the compelling evidence that sperm DNA damage is common; occurring by paternal ageing, obesity, smoking and other lifestyle choices. As such, it is crucial to optimise sperm DNA quality with simple lifestyle changes or therapeutic interventions such as varicoecele repair, before treatment.

Sperm with DNA damage are still capable of fertilising an egg, and the fertilised egg is able to repair some of this damage, however, if DNA repair is insufficient, this damage may affect the viability of pregnancy as well as the health and wellbeing of the baby. The article highlights recent data supporting the link between oxidative stress, sperm DNA damage, defective DNA repair, the mutational load of the embryo and the long-term health impacts on the offspring. Potential health problems include neuropsychiatric disorders and cancer, among others, and therefore testing levels of sperm DNA fragmentation (or damage) early should be a priority for fertility professionals. Prof Aitken contends that sperm DNA fragmentation should be tested as a matter of best practice prior to ART to ameliorate such damage and protect the health of the offspring.

The role of the man in couples experiencing fertility issues has been overlooked for many years. Now awareness of male infertility is rising and more data is being revealed showing the impact of sperm DNA damage. Examen, along with fellow fertility experts, is sharing insights which demonstrate the importance of sperm DNA quality in relation to the health outcomes of the child, not just in the likelihood of pregnancy. Now is the time for sperm DNA damage to become a routine test in the fertility treatment pathway – to help more men become dads.

We will be joined by Professor John Aitken for our July male fertility webinar to discuss more on this important topic and answer the question:

Should we be measuring DNA damage routinely in the male fertility workup?

Watch our webinar with Professor John Aitken to find out.

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