Sperm DNA fragmentation testing: a cross sectional survey on current practices of fertility specialists

Ahmad Majzoub, Ashok Agarwal, Chak-Lam Cho, Sandro C. Esteves

Abstract

Background: Sperm DNA fragmentation (SDF) testing has been recognized as a valuable tool in the evaluation of infertile men. Despite that, its routine use in clinical practice is still hampered by the lack of understanding of the specific clinical scenarios where SDF testing is most beneficial. The aim of this study was to investigate fertility specialists evaluation of infertility of SDF testing in the context of male infertility evaluation and assisted reproductive technology.
Methods: A questionnaire was developed to survey the major aspects of SDF testing and was mailed to specialists with demonstrated clinical experience in the field of infertility. A total of 65 professionals were invited to answer issues related to the utility of SDF testing, the testing methods they used, were the SDF cut-off values, and the cost of testing and the perceived drawbacks of the test results. Specific clinical scenarios were presented to assess whether or not participants would recommend SDF testing. The frequency of responses was analyzed.
Results: Forty-nine participants from 19 countries responded to the study questionnaire. SDF testing was commonly ordered by 39 (79.6%) respondents; while 10 (20.4%) did not order SDF testing during fertility evaluation. Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase nick end labelling (TUNEL) and sperm chromatin structure assay (SCSA) were most commonly utilized (30.6% for both), followed by sperm chromatin dispersion (SCD) (20.4%), single cell gel electrophoresis (Comet) (6.1%) and other methods (12.2%). SDF was most commonly requested in couples presenting with recurrent conventional in vitro fertilization (IVF) failure or pregnancy loss following conventional IVF (91.8%), followed by couples with recurrent first trimester natural pregnancy loss (NPL) and recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL) following intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) (85.7% for both). A 67.3% of respondents admitted that an SDF test result would affect their decision to utilize testicular instead of ejaculated sperm for ICSI. The reported mean ± standard deviation (SD) cost (USD) of SDF testing was 170.4±122.9. Cost (46.9%), poor validation (36.7%) and low precision (18.3%) were the most commonly reported drawbacks of SDF testing.
Conclusions: SDF testing is utilized in the evaluation of infertility patients by a majority of fertility specialists under specific clinical scenarios. Shortcomings, such as the presence of several SDF testing methods with different cut-off values and the test charges were some of the reasons hampering the routine use of SDF in the evaluation of infertile men.