Sperm supply shortage? Less than 4% of men are accepted as sperm donors

SHEFFIELD, United Kingdom — Sperm donation isn’t as easy of a process as some may think. A new study reveals that less than four in 100 men who donate see their sperm reach the final stages of the process.

A team from the University of Sheffield worked with the world’s largest sperm banks, Cryos International, to examine what happened to more than 11,700 men in the United States and Denmark who applied to be sperm donors. Results show that more half of the men who applied (54.91%) withdrew from the program before having samples released for use.

Around one in six men in the study (17.41%) were rejected because of health issues, they were the carrier of a genetic disease, or they had an infectious disease with no treatment.

The findings, published in the journal Human Reproduction, also revealed that just over one in 10 applicants (11.71%) failed a screening questionnaire about their lifestyle. A similar number (11.2%) did not meet the level of sperm quality for donation.

“To our knowledge this is the largest study of sperm donor applicants outside China and given that the UK relies so heavily on imported sperm from the USA and Denmark it is important for us to understand the recruitment processes there and reassure ourselves that they are safe as well as see if there is anything we can do to improve them,” says lead author Professor Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology and Head of the Department of Oncology and Metabolism at the University of Sheffield, in a media release.

Anonymity is also an issue for sperm donors

Recent figures from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority show that more than half of the new sperm donors registered in the U.K. came from other countries, mostly from sperm banks such as Cryos in the U.S. and Denmark. Since 2006, it has been illegal in the U.K. to use sperm from donors who are unwilling to be identified to any people born from their donations.

For the new study, Prof. Pacey and the team looked at how many of the donors at Cryos agreed to be identifiable compared to those that did not. They found that more than four in 10 donor candidates (41.27%) initially agreed to be identifiable. It was more common for applicants in Denmark to agree to waive their anonymity in comparison to applicants from the U.S.

The team also found that as the screening and donation process continued, more of the donors who initially wanted to be anonymous, agreed to become identifiable.

“The study with Cryos highlights how hard it is to become a sperm donor. It’s not like blood donation where once it’s done you can have a cup of tea and go home. Sperm donation is a regular commitment with lots of screening and regular testing as well as life-long implications for the donor if any children are born from their sample,” Prof. Pacey says.

“What’s particularly fascinating is that more donors, who initially wanted to remain anonymous, were willing to be identifiable as the screening and donation process continued. This is particularly good news for patients in the UK undergoing fertility treatment, as it is a legal requirement for sperm donors to be identifiable to any children born from their donations.”

“We are very grateful to Professor Pacey and the team for their in depth analysis of sperm donors which has already been very valuable in helping Cryos look at its recruitment process and try to make them more efficient,” adds Dr. Anne-Bine Skytte, Medical Director at Cryos International.

“If we can recruit donors more easily then this will help keep costs down for patients in the UK and elsewhere who often buy donor sperm with their own money because it’s not funded by the NHS.”

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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