Sperm cells surround an embryo 311.
(photo credit: Debbi Morello/Detroit Free Press/MCT)
The quality of semen among fertile sperm donors has dropped “drastically” during
the last 15 years, according to new research conducted in Jerusalem and
published recently in the Israel Medical Association Journal.
researchers, headed by Dr. Arye Hurwitz and his colleagues at the reproductive
endocrinology and infertility unit of the Hadassah University Medical Center in
Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, stated that both the sperm counts in the semen had
declined and the motility of the sex cells had dropped, thus making it more
difficult to produce pregnancies by ordinary artificial insemination.
2004, the criteria for sperm donation were lowered.
In 2009, 38 percent
of applicants for sperm donation were rejected, compared to a third of
applicants 10 to 15 years ago. If the old strict criteria were in place today,
the researchers wrote, 88% of sperm donors would be rejected.
deterioration of sperm quality, the Hadassah researchers wrote, “is alarming and
may lead to a cessation of sperm donation programs.”
The semen donors
whose samples were included in the study ranged in age from 20 to 37, were
healthy, unmarried, highly educated and living in the Jerusalem area. A full 98%
of them were white. The 58 sperm donors either responded to ads at the Hebrew
University campuses or heard by word of mouth. Their blood was tested for a
variety of infectious diseases from HIV to hepatitis B and C and syphilis and
hereditary diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Tay-Sachs.
originally registered, but a third were rejected because of the low quality of
their sperm. A total motile sperm count of 20 million was required in each
donation for artificial insemination.
The pregnancy rate of women who
received the donations r e m a i n e d high at 80%, the researchers wrote, but
was significantly lower than that recorded years ago, “suggesting that the
subfertility limit may be imminent.”
The researchers did not suggest why
the quality has declined, but in previous research, some of the factors for this
have included female hormones in the environment, heating of the scrota by
laptop computers and even frequent bicycling and the wearing of tight
“The recorded rapid deterioration of sperm quality among semen
donors in our unit may be alarming,” they concluded.
“This presumed trend
can lead in the near future to closure of services of semen donation for
intra-uterine insemination based on low sperm donation and a switch to in-vitro
fertilization” in the test tube, including the use of technologies to “shoot”
individual sperm into ova. This technique is much more expensive, invasive and complicated than artificial insemination.
Studies in similar
units around the country are needed, the Jerusalem researchers said.