Health Medical

Sperm injecting robots may make IVF treatment cheaper, more accessible

IVF babies

HQ Team

May 6, 2023: Infertility affects millions of people around the world and statistics suggest one in every eight couples trying for a baby faces fertility issues. More than 2.5 million in vitro fertilization or IVF cycles are done annually, resulting in more than a half-million deliveries, according to research published in Reproductive Biomedicine Online.

IVF is an expensive proposition, and laws and regulations govern frequency, age and demographics for its access.  A new experiment by engineers at a Barcelona-based start-up, Overture Life, has found a way to make the procedure less expensive. The experiment has been reported in MIT Review.

The experiment was undertaken in New York’s New Hope Fertility Center last spring. Here the researchers fertilized more than a dozen eggs using a microscope, a needle, a petri dish and a laptop. Fast forward a year, and two healthy baby girls have been born due to the study.

One of the engineers used a Sony PlayStation 5 controller to position a robotic needle and guide it toward fertilizing an egg. “I was calm. In that exact moment, I thought, ‘It’s just one more experiment,'” said Eduard Alba, the student mechanical engineer who commanded the sperm-injecting device.

This is in stark contrast to the traditional IVF procedure, which involves trained embryologists delicately handling sperm and eggs using ultra-thin needles under a microscope.

So could these sperm-injecting robots be a quicker, more affordable alternative to in vitro fertilisation (IVF)?

The startup Overture Life has ambitious plans to automate in vitro fertilization, making it less expensive and far more common and the firm has filed a patent application describing a “biochip” for an IVF lab in miniature.

“Think of a box where sperm and eggs go in, and an embryo comes out five days later,” said Santiago Munné, the prize-winning geneticist who is chief innovation officer at the Spanish company. “It has to be cheaper. And if any doctor could do it, it would be.”

Cheaper and accurate

This technique, if accepted, will bring hope to many people who don’t have access to or cannot afford fertility treatments. The average cost of IVF in Europe is anywhere between €2,000 – €5,000 using your own eggs and €4,000 – €7,000 when carried out as part of an egg donor program, according to Fertility Clinics Abroad’s figures. In the US, it costs $12,000 to $14,000 for one cycle.

So far, Overture has raised about $37 million from investors, including Khosla Ventures and Susan Wojcicki, the former CEO of YouTube. Overture’s effort is just a small part of the whole process of infertility treatment. But it is a start, and more companies are already working on automatizing the whole process, such as freezing the eggs and sperm, nurturing the embryo, developing artificial wombs, and gene editing.


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