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New Discovery about Sperm May Lead to Simpler Treatment for Common Male Factor Infertility

Shady Grove Fertility Urologist, Dr. Cori Tanrikut
Dr. Cori Tanrikut, Reproductive Urologist at SGF

How do sperm really swim? Dr. Cori Tanrikut, Reproductive Urologist at SGF, shared her thoughts in a recent Smithsonian Magazine article about a breakthrough study on the swimming direction of sperm, upending roughly 350 years’ worth of assumptions about reproduction.

Using 3-D microscopy and advanced mathematical analyses, an international team of researchers from the University of Bristol in England and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico discovered that the human sperm tails’ snakelike movement is an optical illusion. Rather than moving side-to-side, sperm tails actually turn in only one direction.

Without other adjustments, a one-sided stroke would result in sperm swimming in circles and never reaching their destination, the female egg. To compensate, the scientists found, the body or head of the sperm rotates independently in a corkscrew-like motion in the opposite direction, enabling the whole cell to move forward in a straight line.

“The more accurately scientists can understand the fundamental molecular biology of sperm motility, the better doctors may be able to address motility issues associated with infertility,” explains Dr Tanrikut. She hopes that knowledge gained from future work in the field will help her offer patients less aggressive fertility treatment options, or even improve their chances of conceiving without assistance.


“Male infertility is really quite common, perhaps more common than the general public realizes,” says Dr. Tanrikut.

While infertility is often regarded as a female problem, the male partner’s role is equally as important, as 40 to 50 percent of all infertility cases are due to male factor infertility.

SGF’s Center for Male Fertility, led by Dr. Paul Shin, and Dr. Cori Tanrikut, offers a range of male services including basic evaluation and testing to state-of-the-art microsurgical techniques including varicocele repair, and vasectomy reversal, as well as sperm injection and extraction techniques that have nearly eliminated infertility among couples with a severe male factor. The Center offers no-scalpel vasectomy services as well.


When Maria and Areen Movsessian of Rockville, MD, tied the knot, they had no idea they would face years of infertility and heartache when they were ready to start building their family. They also had no idea that their struggle to conceive would lead them to uncovering a diagnosis of azoospermia, a rare condition characterized by the absence of sperm in the semen. After trying for years, the couple was blindsided to learn of Areen’s unexpected male factor infertility and wondered, “Is it ever going to be us?”

For more information about overcoming male factor infertility, watch SGF’s Male Fertility Webinar On-Demand.

To schedule a virtual consultation with an SGF physician, please call our New Patient Center at 1-888-761-1967 or submit this brief form.


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