Sperm Tail-Tracking Technique Could Improve Male Fertility Testing

Sperm tail-tracking technique analyses how sperm tails move and consume energy.

Tracking the movement of a sperm’s tail, or sperm tail-tracking, could improve male fertility testing and lead to more effective treatments, according to a new study. sperm tail tracking

The technique developed by researchers at the University of Birmingham, works by measuring the speed and action of the sperm flagellum, or tail.

By analysing the tail, it is possible to decipher whether the sperm in an ejaculate have the potential to reach and fertilise the egg, they said as they published their findings in the journal Human Reproduction.

Currently, analysing sperm is either done by counting the number of sperm produced or by tracking the head of the cell.

However, “diagnostic methods are crude and there are still no drugs available for treating male infertility,” said researcher Jackson Kirkman Brown MBE.

The new sperm tail-tracking technique uses a combination of rapid, high-throughput digital imaging, mathematics and fluid dynamics to detect and track sperm in samples.

To ensure the method is accessible to other researchers and clinicians, the team have developed a free-to-use software called FAST (flagellar capture and sperm tracking).

This will lead to an improved understanding of male fertility problems, and how to treat them, the researchers said. 

“We have all heard of ‘sperm count’, and indeed the tools available to understand sperm – manual counting with a microscope – have not changed much since the 1950s,” said lead researcher Professor Dave Smith.

TheIndependent.co.uk, by Chelsea Ritschel, June 7, 2019

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House of Lords approves LGBT-inclusive relationships and sex education

LGBT inclusive sex education

The House of Lords has given its backing to new LGBT-inclusive guidance on compulsory relationships and sex education in English schools.

The House of Lords gave approval to new government guidance on relationships and LGBT inclusive sex education late on Wednesday (April 24), a month after the plan passed through the House of Commons by a vote of 538 to 21.LGBT inclusive sex education

The regulations passed through the Lords without a formal division due to overwhelming support, paving the way for the guidance to come into effect in schools for September 2020.

Education minister Lord Agnew of Oulton said: “There is no reason why teaching children about the diverse society that we live in, and the different types of loving and healthy relationships, cannot be done in a way that respects everybody’s views.

“Schools should ensure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met and that all pupils understand the importance of equality and respect, in particular respect for difference.

“The new guidance is clear on the teaching about LGBT relationships expected in secondary schools and encouraged in primary while retaining the flexibility for head teachers to respond to the needs of their own schools.”

In a moving speech during the debate, gay Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven revealed he contemplated suicide as a teenager due to homophobia, and said he hopes the new LGBT-inclusive guidance helps others like him.

He said: “A lot has been spoken about the theory of relationships education, and people coming to terms with who they are and understanding the modern world.

“I was one of those 15 year olds who looked over the edge and contemplated suicide. Stories about the real world are far more important than theory.”

pinknews.co.uk, by Nick Duffy, April 25, 2019

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Parents can use sperm harvested from their dead son to make grandchildren, judge rules

harvested sperm

West Point cadet Peter Zhu, who was unmarried, died after a skiing accident on February 23, Judge allows parent to use harvested sperm.

He had been found unresponsive on a ski slope on the grounds of the military academy in upstate New York.  Zhu was then taken to a hospital, where he was declared brain dead days later.  Judge now rules that parents may use their son’s harvested sperm.harvested sperm

In March, his parents petitioned the court to allow the hospital to have their son’s  harvested sperm retrieved and frozen at the same time harvest his organs for donation.

The petition was granted and the sperm was preserved at a sperm bank after the retrieval.  His organs were also harvested to help those waiting for a lifesaving transplant before he was buried in the West Point Cemetery.

According to CNN, the Supreme Court Justice John Colangelo’s ruling gave Zhu’s parents the ability to attempt conception with a surrogate mother using their late son’s sperm.  “At this time, the court will place no restrictions on the use to which Peter’s parents may ultimately put their son’s sperm, including its potential use for procreative purposes,” Colangelo wrote.  “They shall possess and control the disposition and potential use of their son Peter’s genetic material.” 

Zhu’s case isn’t the first incident of this type, according to AP.In 2007, a court in Iowa authorized recovery of a man’s sperm by his parents to donate to his fiance for future procreative use.  In 2009, a Texas woman got a judge’s permission to have her 21-year-old son’s sperm extracted after his death, with the intention of hiring a surrogate mother to bear her a grandchild.

StandardMedia.com, May 30, 2019, by Charles Odero

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Making Babies in the Year 2045 – Genetic Data

genetic defect

Huge pools of Genetic data collected over the past generation allow you to pick many of your child’s genetic traits. Are you comfortable with that?

genetic defect

The year is 2045. The genomes of four billion humans have been sequenced, creating a huge pool of genetic information accessible to researchers. This process had been well underway in 2019, but accelerated rapidly once many countries realized that understanding human biology was the ultimate big data problem and a key to reducing health care costs and enhancing national competitiveness. Widely sharing deeply personal health information had alarmed privacy advocates. But supporters of sharing genetic data argued convincingly that the benefits to society outweighed the privacy concerns of individuals. The debate may have once seemed abstract. But now you are in a fertility clinic and the issues are fast becoming real.

The cascade of numbers overwhelms you as the doctor splashes the spreadsheet across the digital walls of her office.

“I hope you can see the wonder and possibility in these figures,” she says, trying to put you at ease.

As you sit in the spa-like clinic, it’s hard to imagine it was just last week when your assistant placed the miniature device on your arm that painlessly suctioned out a small amount of blood and started you on this journey. The spark of life that used to begin in bedrooms and the back seats of cars was now migrating out of the human body and into the lab.

“Take your time,” the doctor continues. “You need to first select the early- stage embryo optimal for you. The numbers across the top list the 300 options for you that we’ve prescreened from the initial 10,000. The column down the left lists all the disorders and traits influenced by genetics that we have some ability to predict. The numbers populating the chart are our best predictions for how the genetic component of each trait would be realized if we selected based on that trait alone. We’re looking for high composite scores emphasizing the qualities most important to you.”

You scan the lists on the walls wondering if a human being can really be reduced to numbers. “Can you really predict all of these traits?” you ask.

“These are all probabilities, not certainties,” the doctor says. “Not all traits are equally genetic. And genetics is a trade-off, so we can’t choose to optimize every trait. Thirty years ago we could mostly just identify disorders determined by a single genetic mutation, but in 2018 we started using what we call ‘polygenic scoring’ to make better predictions about diseases and traits influenced by hundreds or thousands of genes. 

“Our biology is still about as complex as it’s been for millions of years but the technology we’re using to understand it is getting exponentially more sophisticated,” she continues. “There may be magic in humans, but we aren’t made of magic. Our DNA is a type of source code we’re learning how to read and write.”

The idea of humans as hackable data sets may be increasingly common but still unsettles you. The numbers on the wall seem to confirm the doctor’s words. “And this 60 means that embryo would be good at math?” you ask, pointing to one of the options on the list.

NYTimes.com, by Jamie Metzl, April 10, 2019

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The relationship between LGBT inclusion and economic development: Macro-level evidence

lgbt economic development

This study analyzes the relationship between social inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and economic development.

gay money

It uses legal and economic data for 132 countries from 1966 to 2011. Previous studies and reports provide substantial evidence that LGBT people are limited in their human rights in ways that also create economic harms, such as lost labor time, lost productivity, underinvestment in human capital, and the inefficient allocation of human resources. This analysis uses a fixed effects regression approach and a newly-created dataset – Global Index on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Orientation (GILRHO) – to assess how these detriments are related to the macroeconomy. Our study finds that an additional point on the 8-point GILRHO scale of legal rights for LGB persons is associated with an increase in real GDP per capita of approximately $2000. A series of robustness checks confirm that this index continues to have a positive and statistically significant association with real GDP per capita after controlling for gender equality. In combination with the qualitative evidence from previous studies and reports, our quantitative results suggest that LGBT inclusion and economic development are mutually reinforcing. Also, a back-of-the-envelope estimate suggests that about 6% to 22% of the finding could reflect the costs to GDP of health and labor market stigmatization of LGB people. Results from this study can help to better understand how the fuller enjoyment of human rights by LGBT people can contribute to a country’s economic development.

ScienceDriect.com, April 11, 2019

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AI COULD SCAN IVF EMBRYOS TO HELP MAKE BABIES MORE QUICKLY

Embryos AI

Embryo AI

IF A WOMAN (or non-female-identifying person with a uterus and visions of starting a family) is struggling to conceive and decides to improve their reproductive odds at an IVF clinic, they’ll likely interact with a doctor, a nurse, and a receptionist, not an AI specialist. They will probably never meet the army of trained embryologists working behind closed lab doors to collect eggs, fertilize them, and develop the embryos bound for implantation.

One of embryologists’ more time-consuming jobs is grading embryos—looking at their morphological features under a microscope and assigning a quality score. Round, even numbers of cells are good. Fractured and fragmented cells, bad. They’ll use that information to decide which embryos to implant first.

It’s more gut than science and not particularly accurate. Newer methods, like pulling off a cell to extract its DNA and test for abnormalities, called preimplantation genetic screening, provide more information. But that tacks on additional costs to an already expensive IVF cycle and requires freezing the embryos until the test results come back. Manual embryo grading may be a crude tool, but it’s noninvasive and easy for most fertility clinics to carry out. Now, scientists say, an algorithm has learned to do all that time-intensive embryo ogling even better than a human.

In new research published today in NPJ Digital Medicine, scientists at Cornell University trained an off-the-shelf Google deep learning algorithm to identify IVF embryos as either good, fair, or poor, based on the likelihood each would successfully implant. This type of AI—the same neural network that identifies faces, animals, and objects in pictures uploaded to Google’s online services—has proven adept in medical settings. It has learned to diagnose diabetic blindness and identify the genetic mutations fueling cancerous tumor growth. IVF clinics could be where it’s headed next.

“All evaluation of the embryo as it’s done today is subjective,” says Nikica Zaninovic, director of the embryology lab at Weill Cornell Medicine, where the research was conducted. In 2011, the lab installed a time-lapse imaging system inside its incubators, so its technicians could watch (and record) the embryos developing in real time. This gave them something many fertility clinics in the US do not have—videos of more than 10,000 fully anonymized embryos that could each be freeze-framed and fed into a neural network. About two years ago, Zaninovic began Googling to find an AI expert to collaborate with. He found one just across campus in Olivier Elemento, director of Weill Cornell’s Englander Institute for Precision Medicine.

wired.com by Megan Molteni, April 4, 2019

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From a Deceased Woman’s Transplanted Uterus, a Live Birth

uterus

A novel uterus transplantation procedure may help more infertile women become pregnant.

A woman who received a uterus transplanted from a deceased donor has given birth to a healthy child, researchers in Brazil said on Tuesday. It is the first such birth to be reported.uterus

Uterine transplants from living donors have succeeded; at least 11 babies have been born this way since 2013. But a viable procedure to transplant uteri from deceased women could drastically increase the availability of the organs.

“We talk about lifesaving transplants. This is a life-giving transplant, a new category,” said Dr. Allan D. Kirk, the chief surgeon at Duke University Health System, who was not involved in the research.

“Biologically, organs of the living and the dead aren’t all that different,” he added. “But the availability of deceased donors certainly could open this up to a much broader number of patients.”

The operation, detailed in a case study published in The Lancet, followed 10 other attempted uterus transplants from deceased donors in the United States, Turkey and Czech Republic. It was the first successful uterine transplant in Latin America.

Infertility affects more than one in 10 women of reproductive age worldwide. The subject in this study, born without a uterus, received the organ from a 45-year-old woman who had delivered three children naturally. The donor had died of a stroke.

Seven months after the 10-hour transplant surgery — after menstruation began, and once it became evident that the patient’s body had not rejected the organ — doctors implanted the uterus with one of the patient’s own eggs.

A six-pound baby girl was delivered through cesarean section, according to Dr. Dani Ejzenberg, a gynecologist at the Hospital das Clínicas at the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil, who led the research.

In the future, patients may be able to turn to organ banks instead of searching for volunteers, and living donors could avoid risky complications such as infections or serious bleeding.

By Emily Baumgaertner  New York Times, December 5, 2018

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Chinese Scientist Claims to Use Crispr to Make First Genetically Edited Babies

Crispr

The researcher, He Jiankui, offered no evidence or data to back up his assertions. If true, some fear Crispr could open the door to “designer babies.”

Ever since scientists created the powerful gene editing technique Crispr, they have braced apprehensively for the day when it would be used to create a genetically altered human being. Many nations banned such work, fearing it could be misused to alter everything from eye color to I.Q.Crispr

Now, the moment they feared may have come. On Monday, a scientist in China announced that he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies, twin girls who were born this month.

The researcher, He Jiankui, said that he had altered a gene in the embryos, before having them implanted in the mother’s womb, with the goal of making the babies resistant to infection with H.I.V. He has not published the research in any journal and did not share any evidence or data that definitively proved he had done it.

But his previous work is known to many experts in the field, who said — many with alarm — that it was entirely possible he had.

“It’s scary,” said Dr. Alexander Marson, a gene editing expert at the University of California in San Francisco.

While the United States and many other countries have made it illegal to deliberately alter the genes of human embryos, it is not against the law to do so in China, but the practice is opposed by many researchers there. A group of 122 Chinese scientists issued a statement calling Dr. He’s actions “crazy” and his claims “a huge blow to the global reputation and development of Chinese science.”

If human embryos can be routinely edited, many scientists, ethicists and policymakers fear a slippery slope to a future in which babies are genetically engineered for traits — like athletic or intellectual prowess — that have nothing to do with preventing devastating medical conditions.

While those possibilities might seem far in the future, a different concern is urgent and immediate: safety. The methods used for gene editing can inadvertently alter other genes in unpredictable ways. Dr. He said that did not happen in this case, but it is a worry that looms over the field.

Dr. He made his announcement on the eve of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, saying that he had recruited several couples in which the man had H.I.V. and then used in vitro fertilization to create human embryos that were resistant to the virus that causes AIDS. He said he did it by directing Crispr-Cas9 to deliberately disable a gene, known as CCR₅, that is used to make a protein H.I.V. needs to enter cells.

By Gina Kolata, Sui-Lee Wee and Pam Belluck, NYTimes.com – November 26, 2018

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Stigma Against Gay People Can Be Deadly

LGBT Trump

L.G.B.T. people experience a range of social, economic and medical disparities that jeopardize their long-term health.

I’ve never been sure what to expect when meeting someone who’s just tried to take his own life. But I’ve learned to stop expecting anything.

Sometimes, the person in front of me barely speaks, staring right through me, lost in a deep catatonic depression. Sometimes he or she can’t stop talking, breathlessly describing what happened as if we’re gossiping at brunch after an hour of SoulCycle.LGBTQ

Yesterday, my patient, a 20-something graduate student, swallowed a jumble of unmarked pills, hoping to die, after his father told him never to come home again. Today, he greeted me with a soft smile, his delirium starting to clear, his heart beating normally again.

“Whoops,” he said.

He’d been a happy kid who aimed to please. He once felt so bad for lying about having done his homework before playing video games, he told me, that he’d grounded himself. Sociable but square, he didn’t drink until he was 21, even though he’d gone to a college with a reputation for partying. Deeply religious, he was gay but desperately wanted not to be.

Now his father’s disavowal pushed him over the edge, capping a string of stigmatizing experiences at home, at school and at church. He’d had enough.

For decades, we’ve known that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals experience a range of social, economic and health disparities — often the result of a culture and of laws and policies that treat them as lesser human beings. They’re more likely to struggle with poverty and social isolation. They have a higher risk of mental health problems, substance use and smoking. Sexual minorities live, on average, shorter lives than heterosexuals, and L.G.B.T. youth are three times as likely to contemplate suicide, and nearly five times as likely to attempt suicide.

Some of these disparities have interpersonal roots: social exclusion, harassment, internalized homophobia. But often they stem from an explicit denial of rights: same-sex marriage bans, employment discrimination, denial of federal benefits. Discrimination in any form can have serious health consequences: Sexual minorities living in communities with high levels of prejudice die more than a decade earlier than those in less prejudiced communities.

But civil rights advances and growing public acceptance of L.G.B.T. individuals in recent years are among the more transformative social changes in modern American history. And evidence increasingly suggests this shift has measurably improved health care access and health outcomes for L.G.B.T. populations.

The halting, patchwork nature of L.G.B.T. rights expansions across the country has allowed researchers to study the effects on health and well-being by comparing states that expanded rights to those that failed to introduce protections, or actively curtailed them. Since Vermont became the first state to formally recognize same-sex partnerships in 2000, many other states either legalized same-sex marriage, or conversely, passed constitutional amendments banning it — until the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges required all 50 states to recognize same-sex marriage.

By Dhruv Khullar, M.D., NYTimes.com, October 9, 2018

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Major Climate Change Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040

A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.climate change

The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” said Bill Hare, an author of previous I.P.C.C. reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.” The report was the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming.

The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change.

Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.

For instance, the report says that heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions — perhaps as high as $27,000 per ton by 2100 — would be required. But such a move would be almost politically impossible in the United States, the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China. Lawmakers around the world, including in China, the European Union and California, have enacted carbon pricing programs.

New York Times – October 8, 2018 by Coral Davenport

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