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

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

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

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

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

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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Americans Show Broad Support for LGBT Nondiscrimination Protections

Across Lines of Party, Demographics, and Geography, Americans Broadly Support Nondiscrimination Protections for LGBT People

gay america

Americans remain supportive of broad nondiscrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Nearly seven in ten (69%) Americans favor laws that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in the job market, public accommodations, and housing.

Support by Age Group

Younger Americans are 17 percentage points more likely than older Americans to say they support laws protecting LGBT people from various forms of discrimination. More than three-quarters (76%) of younger Americans (ages 18-29) favor such laws, compared to (59%) of seniors (ages 65 and older).

Support by Political Party and Ideology

Support for nondiscrimination protections enjoys broad support across the political spectrum. Majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (70%), and Republicans (56%) say they favor laws that would shield LGBT people from various kinds of discrimination. While support among Democrats and independents has remained relatively constant, Republican support for these provisions has fallen five percentage points over the past few years, down from (61%)  in 2015.

Majorities of liberals (81%), moderates (76%), and conservatives (55%) all favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.

Ideological differences are more pronounced among Democrats and independents than among Republicans. The biggest intra-party divide is among Democrats: Liberal Democrats (87%) are likelier than moderate (76%) and conservative (61%) Democrats to favor nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBT people. Liberal (79%) and moderate (78%) independents are also likelier than conservative independents (58%) to support nondiscrimination protections.

Notably, self-identified moderate Republicans (69%) are likelier than self-identified liberal Republicans (59%) or conservative Republicans (53%) to favor laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. Conservative Democrats (61%) are about as likely as liberal Republicans (59%) to favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.

PRRI.org, March 12, 2019 by
Daniel GreenbergEmma BeyerMaxine Najle, PhDOyindamola BolaRobert P. Jones, PhD

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Gay Dads Make Excellent Parents, According To A Recent Study, Proving What We Already Knew

Yet another study, now from Canada, shows gay dads are engaged and loving parents.

gay dads study

Sometimes it seems like our world is never getting any better. Climate change is still very much a thing, as are climate change deniers. Racism, sexism, homophobia; none of this has been completely eradicated as a person might have hoped would happen by 2019. And yet, there is still a nice shiny light at the end of the tunnel. Because a recent study found that gay dads make excellent parents, and just the knowledge that such a study exists is cause for a little celebration.

A seven year study conducted by Eric Feugé of the University of Quebec in Montreal looked specifically at how gay fathers interacted with their children. The long-term study observed 46 families, including 92 gay fathers and 46 children under the age of 9, according to Pink News. 

Most of the men in the study had adopted children who had been removed from their biological families for their own protection, according to The Montreal Gazette, which can understandably be more of a challenge considering potential emotional or physical trauma. And it seems that, according to the study, a full one-third of the children adopted under the social services umbrella in Montreal were adopted by gay parents since it became legal in the province of Quebec in 2002.

Feugé explained to The Montreal Gazette that he was looking specifically at gay dads to see how they engaged with their kids. 

“One of my main objectives was to study the degree of engagement of gay fathers, and how they distribute parental work,” he told the publication. “I wanted to see if that had an effect on the adaptation of the children; and to understand the determinants of (the fathers’) engagement — why some fathers get involved in certain areas of their children’s lives rather than others.” 

And as he explained to The Montreal Gazette, “There was a high degree of engagement in all types of parental roles.”

Feugé went on to note in his study that there tended to be one father who did a bit more than the other, leading the researchers to categorize the dads into primary and secondary caregiver roles, according to The Montreal Gazette.

Lesbian Parents, Sexual Orientation: A Fresh Analysis

According to researchers at The Williams Institute, located at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, approximately six million children and adults in the U.S. have a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender parent.

ABA resolution

The question of how having same-sex parents affects and impacts children of those couples, is being addressed in a thirty-three year long ongoing study of offspring from conception to adulthood, (1986-2019+) by the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study. (NLLFS)

Lead researcher Dr. Nanette Gartrell, M.D alongside her co-investigator researcher Dr. Henny Bos, Ph.D, found that the psychological health of adults is unrelated to the sexual identity of their parents.

The NLLFS study has had a 92% retention rate since it began in 1986. The current analysis compared 76 offspring of lesbian parents and 76 demographically matched participants from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG).

But, according to researchers Gartell and Bos, data on the sexual attractions, orientations, and experiences of adults who were born into sexual minority parent families are limited.

A fresh analysis of data extrapolated from the ongoing study by NLLFS this past month however, finds that the 25-year-old children of lesbian parents are more likely than their peers to report same-sex attraction, sexual minority identity and same-sex experiences.

“Our 2018 study, [published in the New England Journal of Medicine] revealed that adults who were conceived through donor insemination and raised by lesbian parents are as psychologically healthy as their peers,” said Gartrell.

“Our current study suggests that being raised by sexual minority parents may lead to more diverse sexual expression for their adult daughters and sons.”

Los Angeles Blade, by Troy Masters, March 25, 2019

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H.I.V. Is Reported Cured in a Second Patient, a Milestone in the Global AIDS Epidemic

Scientists have long tried to duplicate the procedure that led to the first long-term remission 12 years ago. With the so-called London patient, they seem to have succeeded.

For just the second time since the global epidemic began, a patient appears to have been cured of infection with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

The news comes nearly 12 years to the day after the first patient known to be cured, a feat that researchers have long tried, and failed, to duplicate. The surprise success now confirms that a cure for H.I.V. infection is possible, if difficult, researchers said.

Timothy Ray Brown was the first person cured of AIDS.

The investigators are to publish their report on Tuesday in the journal Nature and to present some of the details at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle. 

Publicly, the scientists are describing the case as a long-term remission. In interviews, most experts are calling it a cure, with the caveat that it is hard to know how to define the word when there are only two known instances.

Both milestones resulted from bone-marrow transplants given to infected patients. But the transplants were intended to treat cancer in the patients, not H.I.V.

Bone-marrow transplantation is unlikely to be a realistic treatment option in the near future. Powerful drugs are now available to control H.I.V. infection, while the transplants are risky, with harsh side effects that can last for years. 

But rearming the body with immune cells similarly modified to resist H.I.V. might well succeed as a practical treatment, experts said. 

“This will inspire people that cure is not a dream,” said Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a virologist at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands. “It’s reachable.”

Dr. Wensing is co-leader of IciStem, a consortium of European scientists studying stem cell transplants to treat H.I.V. infection. The consortium is supported by AMFAR, the American AIDS research organization.

By Apoorva Mandavilli , March 4, 2019 – NYTimes.com

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