A semen centrifuge is the newest direct-to-consumer fertility device on the market. The Trak, a desktop gadget that measures a man’s sperm count, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month for consumer use.
The device, developed by Bay Area startup Sandstone Diagnostics, runs on AA batteries, costs $159.99, and even syncs with your phone. It’s slated to ship directly to consumers this fall.
Men use a dropper to deposit a sample of their ejaculate into a small well in the device. Powered by a small motor, the Trak quickly spins the semen so that the sperm cells settle on the bottom. The device then simply gauges the level of sperm cells in the sample.
Infertility is a widespread problem, affecting about 1 in 8 couples worldwide. Women, however, are by and large the ones that seek out infertility treatment, because infertility is widely perceived as a women’s problem. This isn’t true: About 40 percent of infertility cases are due to issues with the men.
But when it comes to visiting the fertility doctor, men tend to hang back, said Dr. Mike Hsieh, a urologist specializing in male fertility at the University of California, San Diego.
“We want to help guys take some proactive steps in understanding their fertility status,” Sommer said.
It’s often tough for couples to admit they may have a fertility problem.
“It’s a big step for couples to go from the mindset of ‘we’re having trouble conceiving’ to ‘we’re going to seek fertility treatment,’” Sandstone CEO Greg Sommer said.
There’s also a geographical appeal to the Trak, and a cost element. “Lots of parts of the country, and the world, don’t have access to fertility centers,” Sommer said. And when it comes to semen collection, Sommer described today’s doctors’ office testing procedures as “awkward, embarrassing, and prohibitively expensive for couples.”
This isn’t the first at-home sperm count test on the market: A diagnostic take-home test called SpermCheck does exist, telling men whether they have appropriate levels of sperm in their ejaculate. But beyond this diagnostic, little else exists for men to use at home.
“[The Trak] is kind of interesting because all the previous versions of home testing for sperm haven’t really panned out,” Hsieh said.
For women, Hsieh said, over-the-counter fertility trackers abound in the form of urine tests, temperature monitoring programs, and ovulation tracking apps. For men, however, the options are more limited.
Still, measuring sperm count only covers a small sliver of the issues that could cause infertility in men. Sperm motility — whether or not the sperm can swim towards the egg — as well as semen volume, shape, and vitality (whether or not the sperm cells are alive and active) are all factors that impact whether a man is fertile.
“The danger of these home tests is that it’s like DIY medicine — people think it’s a replacement of seeing a doctor,” Hsieh said. “It’s not.”