Breakthrough 3D-printed micro device will streamline IVF procedure

Scientist looking into microscope

A revolutionary new 3D-printed device created by University of Adelaide researchers will make the only treatment for men with low sperm counts faster, cheaper, and more accessible.

Infertility is just as common in men as it is in women, but while a range of treatments are available for female infertility there is only a single treatment option available for men with low sperm counts: Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI).

ICSI involves the injection of a single sperm into an egg for fertilisation. It takes place in a petri dish and requires two tiny suction and injection devices – one that holds the microscopic egg in place, and one that injects the sperm. Because of its delicate nature, the procedure can only be performed by experienced embryologists. It’s slow, complicated, and not offered in all IVF clinics.

This means that accessing the treatment is extremely difficult for couples who are struggling to conceive because of male infertility.

Through an exciting partnership between University of Adelaide researchers and the medical technology company Fertilis, a brand-new device has been invented that will make ICSI faster, cheaper, and more accessible.

During traditional ICSI, an embryologist starts with a petri dish of eggs floating in media and will try to inject as many as possible. There are two main problems with this approach. Firstly, it can be difficult to keep track of which eggs have been injected or not. Secondly, securing the eggs with the tiny suction device is extremely challenging. In addition, any rough handling of the egg can cause irreversible damage.

The team led by Dr Kylie Dunning from the Robinson Research Institute has solved both these problems with their invention of a tiny 3D-printed “Garage” that safely houses up to ten eggs at a time. The Garage is smaller than a pin head, and keeps the eggs separated neatly in their own minuscule Pods, ready for quick injection.

“By removing the need for the pipette that normally holds the unfertilised egg in position, this device simplifies the injection process, reduces dependency on a high level of technical experience and will dramatically improve embryo production,” Dr Dunning explained.

Device inventor and Fertilis co-founder Professor Jeremy Thompson says that his company is excited to bring the breakthrough device to market.

“ICSI hasn’t changed since its discovery 30 years ago. Continued innovation in the IVF lab like this is the only way we will boost success and reduce the financial and emotional burden for patients,” he said.

What’s next?

The device has been carefully tested to ensure that the Garage and Pod are not toxic to egg cells, and the findings have recently been published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, with PhD candidate Suliman Yagoub from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences as lead author.

In 2022, Fertilis will take the device into global clinical trials. This will be an enormous leap towards making ICSI more accessible to the thousands of hopeful parents who need it.

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