Male Factor Infertility: Azospermia
Male Factor Infertility: Azospermia
Male Factor Infertility: Azospermia means no sperm are found in the ejaculate. Azospermia requires careful evaluation and treatment so that the couple has the best chance to conceive with IVF. The evaluation should be methodical and compassionate to guide the couple through such a multifaceted process to pregnancy and delivery of a healthy child.
Four Things Have to Happen at Initial Evaluation for Azospermia
a. Is it truly azospermia? sometimes repeat sperm analysis together with spinning of the ejaculate multiple times may yield few sperm. This has to be performed by a diligent andrologist and in a facility that can freeze sperm immediately if found. In some azospermic men, repeat analysis and freezing can avoid a surgical procedure to retrieve sperm.
b. A genetic cause for azospermia should be excluded. Specifically three known genetic problems should be excluded because they can be passed to offspring and because they can predict the success of surgical sperm retrieval. A chromosome analysis should be done to exclude sex chromosome abnormalities e.g klinefelter Syndrome (47XXY). Y chromosome microdeletion study should be conducted to exclude a deletion of the part of Y chromosome related to sperm production. Cystic fibrosis carrier screening should also be run to detect defect in the CF gene that may be associated with absence of the ducts conducting the sperm outside of the testes.
c. Evaluation of Ovarian Reserve for Female Partner. If ovarian reserve evident by day 3 FSH, AMH levels and antral follicle count seen on vaginal ultrasound is not diminished, this predicts reasonable chance for success with IVF-ICSI if sperm are found. Extremely low ovarian reserve or advanced female age may preclude surgical sperm retrieval, unless an donor eggs are acceptable.
d. Urological evaluation. This has to be the last step in evaluation. Male urologists are the physicians specializing in evaluating the chance for successful sperm retrieval (TESE) as well perform these procedures. Before referral by a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, there should be every reason to think that if sperm were obtained there is a reasonable chance for conception after IVF-ICSI. The urologist should be a specialist in male reproduction and well versed in the techniques of sperm retrieval. You actually need to ask your urologist two questions: what are my personalized chance for finding sperm when surgery (TESE) is performed? What the technique used to obtain sperm? Authorities generally agree that the technique for TESE markedly affect the chance for finding sperm.
Moreover, every workup should end with an important question; would you accept donor sperm if no sperm were obtained after surgery?
How is TESE Performed?
Testicular sperm extraction is a surgical procedure that entails sampling of multiple areas of the testes aiming at finding sperm to be used for IVF-ICSI. The tested is delivered outside the scrotum, bisected and multiple biopsies obtained from several areas of the testes. The tissue is examined for the presence of sperm. If no sperm were found, more biopsies are obtained till sperm are found. There are generally two types of azospermia: obstructive azospermia (due to obstruction of the ducts of the testes while sperm production is intact). Sperm is obtained in close to 100% of these cases. Non-obstructive azospermia (NOA) where is a defect in sperm production, approximately 60 to 70% of the procedures yield sperm.
Blind biopsy from one area of the testes has no place in modern treatment of azospermia. Asking your urologist about the technique of TESE is of paramount importance. The first surgical attempt carries the highest chance for success.
Recently, Doppler ultrasound mapping of the testes can help localize the areas of that should be biopsies because they yield a higher chance for finding sperm.
Why is IVF-ICSI Required after Sperm Retrieval?
The number of sperm obtained after TESE is small in the magnitude of tens to hundreds of sperm, too small to use the sperm for IUI. ICSI is absolutely required for all cases of surgical retrieval of sperm. The sperm can be used in one of two ways
a. Frozen TESE sperm: The sperm are frozen to be thawed at a later date, on the day of egg retrieval for the female partner. This method saves the cost of IVF if no sperm were retrieved and donor sperm use is unacceptable.
b. Fresh TESE sperm: Ovarian stimulation is started and TESE is performed on the day of egg retrieval or the day before. Fresh sperm are used for ICSI. Donor sperm (if acceptable) is obtained as a backup. Though suggested, there no concrete evidence that fresh TESE sperm is superior to frozen TESE sperm.
In addition in some caes with associated genetic problems, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) can be performed followed by the transfer of normal embryos.
Can the Chance for Pregnancy be predicted in Male Factor Infertility: Azospermia ?
There are several predictive factors for pregnancy in female partners of men with azospermia. These can be categorized into:
i. Successful sperm retrieval is related to whether the procedure is the first one or a repeat procedure, the volume of the testes, medical treatment before surgery, the technique used and the cause for azospermia. Some causes are associated to minimal chance for obtaining sperm.
ii. Pregnancy after sperm retrieval is related to the female partner age and her ovarian reserve. Younger women have a very good chance of conceiving if sperm are obtained. This is the most important factor once sperm are retrieved.
iii. Obstructive azospermia has a higher chance for sperm retrieval than non-obstructive azospermia.
iv. Moving sperm at the time of ICSI has a higher chance to yield a pregnancy than non moving sperm
v. Men with higher testosterone levels and lower LH levels has higher chance of sperm retrieval
vi. The effect of using of frozen TESE sperm is controversial. Some authorities think that using a fresh TESE sperm is better than frozen sperm.
vii. Use of Doppler: recent work indicates that the use of Doppler study of the testes before the procedure may help localize the areas that should be biopsies and yield a higher chance for sperm harvest.
Male Factor Infertility: Azospermia requires a multidisciplinary approach; first consultation with a reproductive endocrinologist (female age is still the most important factor) followed by a consultation with a reproductive urologist for the TESE procedure for successful sperm harvest and pregnancy