15 February 2017

Success for £500,000 fertility study

Success for £500,000 fertility study

An Abertay electrophysiologist has reached a landmark phase in a collaborative £500,000 study of male infertility.

Dr Sean Brown recently completed a study, which aimed to establish how human sperm cell fertilisation ability is affected by alterations in specific membrane proteins called ion channels.

Carried out in collaboration with the University of Dundee, the University of Birmingham and the Assisted Conception Unit at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, the study has investigated if sperm that lacked potassium ion channels could still fertilise.

Dr Brown undertook an analysis of sperm from sub-fertile men at Ninewells Hospital using a technique known as patch clamp electrophysiology, which permits the study of ion channel function in individual cells.

He said the study examined the correlation between the success of IVF (In vitro fertilisation) and the presence or absence of a potassium channel in sperm cells.

'In mouse models, it was found that when sperm potassium channels were knocked out the male mice were infertile and that gave us a clue that it might be the same in humans,' Dr Brown said.

'Patients come on the day of treatment and provide samples to be used in either ICSI (Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) or IVF.

'I can take a single cell from this sample and using the patch clamp technique I can attempt to activate the ion channels.

'I found that cell populations with an extreme abnormality in the potassium channel have low fertilisation success at IVF.'

Dr Brown explained that ion channels regulate many cellular functions.

He said, 'We aim to find out the molecular cause of potassium channel dysfunction and what precise cellular functions are affected.'

The joint funding grant of £500,000 from the Medical Research Council is due to come to an end this year and those leading the project plan to apply for additional funding to address these challenges.

A paper on the research was published last year in Human Reproduction and it was recently cited as being of 'special significance in its field' by industry site F1000 Prime.

Dr Brown is a Senior Lecturer on Abertay's undergraduate Biomedical Sciences programme and has degrees from University College London and at the University of Strathclyde.

For more information visit https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dew056.

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