Use Your Sperm for Good | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Use Your Sperm for Good

Sci&Tech Editor, Rachel Taylor, investigates the need for more sperm donors for the research programme between the Medical School and Birmingham Women's Hospital.

Basic scientific research on sperm is limited by the amount of sperm donors that the Centre for Human Reproductive Science (ChRS) can recruit to their research sperm donor database. These numbers may be limited by the false belief that sperm donation means the possibility of impregnating a woman and having an unwanted baby handed over to donors years later. Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown MBE, a world leading expert on male fertility and the winner of Healthcare Scientist of 2014, aims to raise awareness of the necessity for male sperm in fertility research.

up to half of all fertility problems are male
In the UK, 1 in 6 couples have fertility problems and we need more sperm donors for research to understand how to help them. Dr Kirkman-Brown’s team work in the labs just behind the University of Birmingham’s Medical School and they are world leaders, pioneering for sperm research. Many other labs around the world concentrate their efforts on women’s fertility, but up to half of all fertility problems are male focused. Many people don’t realise that it isn’t just fertilising an egg that can cause fertility problems; damaged sperm may cause miscarriages in the first trimester of pregnancy. This is a very common occurrence among the population.

The sperm research carried out within the ChRS covers three main areas; diagnosis, intervention and contraception. Diagnosis encompasses discovery of sperm functions and fertility, as well as looking for markers of testicular and prostate cancer. Intervention focuses on picking and choosing sperm that have the greatest chances of implantation and figuring out how to improve sperm. If the sperm population can be refined to only those of the highest quality, then we can make better embryos. Chemicals in the female tract also affect the sperm’s ability to ‘swim’ and again, to understand effects of interactions with these chemicals across the population, many more sperm donors are required.

At the labs in Birmingham, the team are also licensed to fertilise human eggs for research, but none of these embryos will go near a uterus, so there is no risk of this donated sperm producing offspring. However, this area of research can give us a better insight into the interactions between sperm and eggs, which can help with other areas such as developing new contraceptives.

ChRS - Banner 1 and Research

Research into contraception is in extremely important field, in which novel findings may have great impact on less economically developed countries, where contraceptives, such as the pill, aren’t as readily available or effective. There is also a hope for the development of novel contraceptives to additionally have an antiviral or anti-HIV effect, reducing the numbers of STDs where they are prevalent. The development of male contraceptives are not fool-proof and would not work in countries where the women have many rights issues.  It is a big trust issue so “any new method of preventing a pregnancy needs to have the person that it affects the most in control” explains Dr Kirkman-Brown.

Dr Kirkman-Brown is aware of key issues that are involved in research and is also recognised as a world expert on genital injury and protection, having taken a key role in preserving fertility in soldiers badly injured during the Afghanistan conflict, for which he was awarded his MBE.

students could become regular donors, getting £25 expenses each time
Lifestyle and environmental effects can have a big impact on the health of your sperm. Even amongst the student population, being what is seen as “fit and healthy” may not be what is best for the sperm. Dr Kirkman-Brown explains that “everything in moderation is best for overall health and for your sperm”, where excessive gym sessions and the use of some gym supplements may have a detrimental effect on your sperm. Overall, if concerned for your welfare, everyone should take sexual health as a priority and go for regular checks. STDs can have a serious effect on health and unprotected sex is a big problem among students. Just because there are no symptoms doesn’t mean there isn’t a disease; for example, Chlamydia actually damages the testicles and sperm, but this cannot be seen with the naked eye. Many STDs can affect fertility, so make sure you check yourself whenever you have put yourself at risk, as a “quick fumble” after FAB isn’t worth damaging your health.

There are many strands of research at any one point that a student donor’s sperm may be a part of: from looking at DNA damage and ability to swim under different conditions, to survival rates in the freeze/thaw process of obtaining sperm. A donor will have an initial appointment, where they go through all the necessary information and provide a semen sample to check what the sperm is like and for which studies it should be used. Depending on the sample and the research going on at the time, the student can then become a regular or non-regular donor. The best part for the student population, who struggle with money, is that once a donor’s sperm is used in research, that person will receive £25 expenses every time they provide sperm to the research.

There is really no reason why you shouldn’t donate, the process is anonymous and you get paid! Every male student’s dream! However, do not use this as a fertility or STD check, the best place for that is still a sexual health clinic. At the donor’s request, any medically relevant information, seen as something that would drastically affect health, will be passed on to you. A wide range of people are needed for the studies going on, so targeting University of Birmingham students is a great initiative, as it is literally just across the road! To find out more, visit or contact

Sci & Tech Editor. Biological Sciences student. Keenly interested in the subjects of plant sciences and genetics. (@Rachel_Taylor95)


23rd February 2015 at 10:41 pm

Images from

Centre for Human Reproductive Science