University study examines decrease in sperm counts for certain areas

Josh Linehan

University researchers will team up with physicians across the world to try to explain a possible drop in sperm counts.
Dubbed the “Study for Future Families,” the international research will focus on male fertility. Recent studies suggest sperm counts have plummeted as much as 50 percent in the past 50 years.
University researcher Dr. Bruce Redmon, who is working in collaboration with the Women’s Clinic at Fairview-Riverside Medical Center, said the University study will be more representative than previous conflicting — and often unreliable — research.
“The main problem is that no one has done a comprehensive study on men from different areas of the world,” Redmon said. “Recent studies have indicated a decrease in general, but they have not had a control group or in general showed bias.”
Participants in past studies did not represent an accurate sample of the general population, often because they were previously sperm donators or were recruited from the military.
Instead, researchers are attempting to combat participation problems with previous studies.
All couples who go to Fairview-Riverside for prenatal care will be asked to participate. But even data on those who choose not to participate will be included in the study so researchers can examine the data for patterns.
The clinic began screening new prenatal patients in August. Researchers hope to follow 300 pregnant couples for two years.
Project coordinator Chris Kwong said the study would be important to future research in the field. It will be used as a control for future research of environmental factors affecting fertility.
“It’s an important first step,” Kwong said. “This should lay the groundwork for future work. If they do find differences, people will get excited.”
Redmon agreed, saying the study would prompt further, needed research.
“First we have to start out to do a fundamental study to find out what average sperm counts are,” Redmon said. “Then we can begin to cross-reference data and look for environmental factors.”
The study will require participant information including medical histories from the prospective couple and the prospective father’s mother. Participating couples will also be asked to answer questions about their diet and residence, which might influence sperm counts.
The University was chosen to participate partially because of previous work in the field and because previous studies have suggested that Minnesota males have higher sperm counts than their counterparts in California.
“We are identifying a specific group of people and doing a prospective study, which is fairly unique. As far as I know, it is the first study of its kind,” Redmon said.

Josh Linehan covers science, technology and reproductive health and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.