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The New PRP Vaccination: A Solution to Male Infertility?

As someone who has witnessed many changes in the field of fertility over the past 40 years, I was fascinated to see that researchers are increasingly focusing their attention on male fertility factors.

I recently read an article on a new PRP (platelet-rich plasma) vaccination that has been designed to help improve male fertility by enhancing the sperms' health, speed and overall performance. The research, which was conducted in Spain, found that by taking a sample of the male's blood and injecting it into a sample of his seminal fluid, one could improve the sperms' speed of movement.

As someone who has witnessed many changes in the field of fertility over the past 40 years, I was fascinated to see that researchers are increasingly focusing their attention on male fertility factors. For too long we, as a global nation, have concentrated on female factors when treating fertility problems when, importantly, we know that 50% of fertility problems are directly related to male factors.

Male factors are renowned for being a difficult subject for fertility researchers to deal with because, over the past 50 years especially, the majority of patients coming forward to discuss their fertility problems have been women. Therefore, the researchers were able to collect a lot of data into female fertility factors and also had many women who were willing to participate in research to substantiate their findings. This meant that our understanding of the reasons behind female fertility problems and the associated treatments progressed quickly. Whereas, until recently, many men thought that they were untouchable and that there was nothing wrong with them; choosing to remain 'strongly and silently' behind the scenes as their partners were treated. Therefore, the problem wasn't that researchers weren't interested in male fertility factors but rather that they were unable to accumulate a large number of male studies to with whom to conduct research into the causes of male fertility problems and to develop successful treatments.

Some of the most brilliant research into male fertility factors was developed in Brussels, where researchers developed the wonderful idea of ICSI (Intracytoplasmic sperm injection) in the early 90s. This technique has been widely used ever since. (Note: ICSI is a very successful fertilization technique in which a single sperm is injected into the center of an egg.) That idea prompted more researchers to develop new ways of dealing with specific male problems but, again, this research as been sporadic and deserves more attention.

Having seen that the Spanish are becoming increasingly interested in male-centered research, it makes me wonder whether the time has come for the world to start taking male factors very seriously, and to start improving the quality of semen, improving low sperm count, reducing congenital malformation, increasing the viability of the sperm, the speed, and the capability of the sperm to penetrate the capsules no matter how hard it is within the egg. As someone who has long been studying the field of fertility, this is very exciting to me as, over time, it has the potential to create a major breakthrough in improving male fertility.

The problem is this... There are very few doctors who specialise in male fertility and, although the majority of them are doing their best to progress research, unfortunately no significant results have been found. Therefore, we need to think very seriously about the institution of researchers who are keen to improve the methods of treating male fertility and try to avoid the 'easy way' of drifting the patient into IVF treatment as, even though IVF can be the most appropriate form of treatment for some couples, many couples may benefit more from better research which, over time, would enable greater numbers of people to successfully conceive a natural pregnancy.

Regarding the Spanish studies and their method of using patients' own blood to improve the quality of the seminal fluid and sperm movement. It's a minor step in the right direction but little more. As fertility specialists, we already have other successful methods of watching the sperms' activity and improving their quality and speed using special lab media. Everybody working in the field of fertility already knows that there are swimming and washing techniques, and methods of removing any unneeded materials, debris and undesired cells within seminal fluid... all of these are known but using one's own blood as a method, this is a minor step. And, until we receive a full data analysis of the number of patients involved in the study and the success rate behind it, we are unable to compare the results with current methods that can successfully improve the sperms without taking blood.

With this in mind, what would have been more interesting to me as a scientist and gynaecologist would have been for this study to show us how many patients they tested; how many patients had experienced fertility problems lasting more than two years; and how many of the men (whose fertility problems has persisted for more than two years) treated by this method successfully achieved pregnancy. Then we could assess the study without bias. However, without this information, the study is purely information, rather than core success of research work.

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