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M.K. Kanakasabapathy et al., Science Translational Medicine (2017)

This Smartphone Attachment Can Test Male Fertility

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M.K. Kanakasabapathy et al., Science Translational Medicine (2017)

A smartphone that can evaluate semen quality sounds like the set-up to a joke. We promise it’s not only real, but a potential game-changer for couples dealing with infertility concerns. Researchers in Boston at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital announced today that their smartphone-based semen analyzer can spot abnormal samples with 98 percent accuracy.

The results, published today in Science Translational Medicine, could bring new hope to the estimated 45 million couples and 12 percent of men worldwide who grapple with infertility. Normally, identifying sperm concentration and sperm motility requires submitting semen samples in clinical settings that can prove embarrassing or uncomfortable for men. Developed by Brigham and Women's researchers in conjunction with colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the analyzer lets them test samples in the privacy of their own home, with results available in under five seconds.

Brigham

Here's how it works. The analyzer has a microchip-equipped, microfluidic slide with a disposable tip that's dipped into the semen sample. The slide is then inserted into an optical device that fits over a smartphone camera, which takes video of the sample. The software then analyzes the video to assess sperm concentration and motility, while a wireless scale measures total sperm count. If the results are abnormal (defined by the World Health Organization as sperm concentrations under 15 million sperm/ml and/or motility under 40 percent), the tester can talk to a doctor for potential treatment.

In a study of 350 samples, abnormal samples were correctly identified 98 percent of the time.

The device is also suitable for men who have undergone vasectomies and need to monitor the efficacy of the operation. Eventually, the researchers hope to explore the technology for use with blood and saliva samples. They currently have no timeline for when the device will be commercially available, but they expect to seek Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval following additional tests.

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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