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Testicular sperm may improve IVF outcomes in some cases



Use of testicular sperm in nonazoospermic couples who had prior in vitro fertilization failure using ejaculated sperm appears to improve embryo development and rates of clinical pregnancy and live birth, a retrospective observational study has found.

IVF ©ktsimage/

The findings were released ahead of the study’s scheduled presentation at the annual clinical and scientific meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG canceled the meeting and released abstracts for press coverage.

The study, which won the college’s Donald F. Richardson Memorial Prize Research Paper award, evaluated 112 nonazoospermic couples with an average of 2.3 failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles (range of 1-8). The couples, patients at Shade Grove Fertility in Washington, underwent 157 total intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) cycles (133 using fresh testicular sperm and 24 using frozen/thawed sperm) and had a total of 101 embryo transfers.

Use of ICSI with testicular sperm compared with prior cycles using ejaculated sperm significantly improved blastocyst development (65% vs. 33%, P < .001), blastocyst conversion rates (67% vs. 35%, P < .001) and the number of embryos available for vitrification (1.6 vs. 0.7, P < .001). Fertilization rates were similar (70% vs. 58%). The clinical pregnancy and live birth rates in couples who used testicular sperm were 44% and 32%, respectively.

The findings suggest improved embryo development and pregnancy rates, and offer more evidence “that this might be something we can offer patients who’ve had multiple failures and no other reason as to why,” M. Blake Evans, DO, clinical fellow in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Rockville, Md., said in a interview. “It looks like there is promise, and we need more research to be conducted.”

The integration of the use of testicular sperm at Shady Grove, a private practice fertility center, and the newly completed analysis of outcomes, were driven by studies “showing that testicular sperm has a low DNA fragmentation index and suggesting that it [offers a] better chance of successful IVF outcomes in patients who have had prior failures,” he said.

Almost all of the men who had ICSC using testicular sperm – 105 of the 112 – had a sperm DNA fragmentation (SDF) assessment of their ejaculate sperm. The mean SDF was 32% and of these 105 men, 66 had an SDF greater than 25% (mean of 49%), a value considered abnormal. The outcomes for patients with elevated SDF did not differ significantly from the overall cohort, Dr. Evans and coinvestigators reported in their abstract.

Dr. Evans said that it’s too early to draw any conclusions about the utility of SDF testing, and that the investigators plan to start prospectively evaluating whether levels of sperm DNA damage as reflected in SDF testing correlate with IVF outcomes.

“Right now the evidence is so conflicting as to whether [SDF testing offers] information that all IVF patients or infertility patients should be receiving,” he said. “Is the reason that testicular sperm works better because there’s lower DNA fragmentation? We think so. … But now that we see [that it] appears the outcomes are better [using testicular sperm], we need to take it a step further and look prospectively at the impact of DNA fragmentation, comparing all the outcomes with normal and abnormal DNA [levels].”

Mark P. Trolice, MD, director of Fertility CARE: The IVF Center in Winter Park, Fla., and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, said in an interview that while “there is increasing evidence – and rather clear evidence – that testicular sperm has less DNA damage,” there has been controversy over available outcomes data, most of which have come from small, retrospective studies. Dr. Trolice was not involved in this study presented at ACOG.

In the case of “very poor outcomes with use of ejaculated sperm and a high SDF index, there seems to be support for the use of testicular sperm on the next IVF cycle,” he said. “But there’s also evidence to support that there’s no significant difference in the outcomes of IUI [intrauterine insemination] or IVF based on the SDF index. So this [study] really took a tremendous leap of faith.”

Dr. Trolice said he looks forward to more research – ideally prospective, randomized studies of men with high SDF levels who proceed with assisted reproductive technologies using ejaculated or testicular sperm.

The research was supported by the division of intramural research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Dr. Evans did not report any relevant financial disclosures. One of his coinvestigators. Micah J. Hill, DO, disclosed having served on the advisory board of Ohana Biosciences. Dr. Trolice reported that he has no relevant financial disclosures. He is a member of the Ob.Gyn. News editorial advisory board.

The abstract was first presented by coauthor Lt. Allison A. Eubanks, MD, of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, at the ACOG Armed Forces District Annual District Meeting in September 2019.

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