According to a medical journal entitled, Science Translational Medicine researchers could have discovered the reason why some couples take long to father a child and unlike the traditional thinking in most African settings, that it’s the woman at “fault” for the delay, the findings point at a very different picture.
The research found that as many as one quarter of men have a genetic change within their sperm, which makes them less fertile than usual.
The change is in a gene that codes for a key protein found on the outside of sperm.
Sperm lacking in the substance find it harder to swim to the egg.
Researchers believe a man with the altered gene can still get his partner pregnant, but this will take longer than usual.
The research was carried out by both the University of Leicester and University of California and covered the US, UK, China, Japan, and Africa involving more than 500 couples.
Dr Edward Hollox of the University of Leicester, a co-author of the study, said: “We understand little about the subtle molecular events which occur in sperm as they make their journey through the woman’s body to fertilise an egg.” He told the BBC: “If you’ve got this gene variant you should allow that little bit longer if your partner’s planning to get pregnant.
“It takes two - it’s the genetic variation in a man that affects fertility in this particular case.” The discovery found that a genetic variation in male sperm may be the cause of couple’s struggles in conceiving. Researchers studied the impact of a gene called DEFB 126, (the gene is responsible for the production of a protein that helps sperm to swim through a woman’s cervical mucus).
Although the study of conception was done with Chinese couples, researchers discovered the variant in one in five men in every population they examined including Japanese, African and European men. The discovery could also help resolve the traditional African perception that it is women rather than men who are mostly infertile.
Infertility in Uganda
“15 per cent of our Ugandan population is actually infertile,” says Dr Tamale Ssali, a gynecology specialist and proprietor of Women’s Hospital International and Fertility Centre.
“This infertility is brought about by many factors ranging from smoking, heavy drinking, occupational hazards, poor nutrition and many others,” he says adding, “but, a large proportion of that 15 per cent are men.”
According to Dr Ssali, men are as responsible for a couple’s difficulty in conceiving. “Actually in my fertility clinic 50 per cent of the cases we work on concerning infertility are all men,” he says. He also says there should be more public awareness targeting couples to help them understand fertility related issues.
“Did you know that a man can determine their fertility by having sperm analysis, a test that can be carried out at any fertility clinic and takes only 15 minutes? Now wouldn’t it be wise for a couple to have themselves checked before they get married to understand exactly where they stand fertility wise and what medication could help them over-come that barrier?” he says.
The researchers found out that the gene mutation only reduces fertility, in many situations; it might simply delay rather than prevent conception.
The treatment could range from intrauterine insemination - sperms introduced directly into the uterus so they don’t have to swim through the cervix - to vitro fertilisation in which the sperm is injected directly into the egg.