Warm stage

Best Of Breed: Linkam Warm Stages Down On The Farm

Calf on a UK Farm

Some veterinary surgeries offer on-site fertility assessment for breeding stock at farms and they rely on Linkam instruments.

These animal fertility assessments are crucial for animal husbandry in the UK; farmers need to know that their animals are healthy before the breeding season so that lambing and calving can be organised effectively. Tup, or sheep, testing is often conducted in the autumn and bull testing occurs in the spring.

Relying on a sub-fertile male to fertilise a large herd can be disastrous: farmers need to ensure all females are fertilised at the same time so that all young are born in a set period. This means the farmer maximises the productivity of his herd, and reduces both the risk of disease and labour costs associated with monitoring the animals during this vulnerable period. The concentration, motility and morphology of sperm are universal indicators of fertility- regardless of the species of male.

But as readers of this blog may already know, sperm activity (including motility) is temperature dependent. To establish fertility, observations need to be carried out at body temperature in order to mimic conditions within the body; for humans, bulls and tups this is exactly 37°C.

In the summer vets can rely on speed, skill and summer warmth to keep their samples alive long enough to observe, but as the winter chill hits the UK, it becomes a race against time. Cold weather has a devastating effect on sperm testing – sperm slow and die, being highly susceptible to cold shock. The use of a precise, accurate heated warm stage is an essential part of the assessment in winter.

Linkam Warm Stage for animal sperm assessment

Linkam’s warm stages provide a solution to this as they are designed to hold a specified temperature to +/- 0.1°C from ambient to 60°C. A platinum resistor temperature sensor is used for higher accuracy and stability and a sophisticated CAD designed bi-filar heating element covers the entire working surface which provides uniform temperature distribution in the sample. Some of the larger farms have microscopes on-site and can view the samples directly while the veterinary surgeries also have official laboratories.

The Linkam stage gives the assessor the confidence that all samples are observed at a stable, set temperature making the Linkam stage a necessary key tool for anyone wanting to look at fertility – animal or otherwise- in or out of the lab.

By Caroline Feltham

The other banking crisis

Sometimes the British are seen as reluctant to talk about intimate matters. The ABA, or Association of Biomedical Andrologists, is one organisation that smashes this stereotype.

As a representative of Linkam I was invited to their AGM meeting and conference last week where dozens of scientists met to talk male fertility. 

Key speaker Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield, spoke about the growing 'banking' crisis. Men facing treatment, such as chemotherapy, are encoraged to store sperm samples in the event that treatment leads to infertility. One consequence of this is that samples are stored in sperm banks indefinitely, as these men are treated, and on some occasions cease contact with the fertility clinic. This leads to an ever growing number of samples which cannot be destroyed without consent.

Dr Allan Pacey addresses the ABA audience

Dr Pacey cited an example of a man in his thirties who had been treated for cancer as a teenager and had banked his sperm before treatment. Nearly twenty years later he has fathered a child after re-establishing contact with the clinic. It is stories like this that help to put a human face on the issue of long term sperm banking and is a poignant reminder that each sample represents a family's future.

Sperm banks provide reassurance for men facing infertility

The Association of Biomedical Andrologists (ABA) is a professional body of Andrology experts providing training and support for their members. The ABA also works towards the regulation of the profession; one of its recommendations is the use of heated stages for all semen analysis. Linkam manufactures a wide range of warm stages specifically for andrology.  

I would like to thank the ABA for such a warm welcome, and a great introduction to their field. We, at Linkam, look forward to working with the ABA on future projects.

By Caroline Feltham

Evolution of a Swedish Bird

Researchers are trying to explain the origin of two species of bird on the Swedish Island of Öland. Understanding how a new species evolves is still somewhat of a mystery because it's an immensely slow process and takes place over thousands of years. Despite these limitations scientists are able to study fully formed, closely related species, such as these birds, and try to infer how they evolved.

The gametes of two species of bird: the Collared Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher are being studied by researchers from the Evolutionary Biology Centre, in Uppsala, using a Linkam TH60-6 warm stage. These two species started to diverge approximately 2 million years ago.

The aim is to learn about how gametes diverge between species. The scientists think a mechanism has evolved to allow the breeding adults to better recognize a member of their own species, however the birds sometimes cross-breed. The resulting hybrid young have reduced fertility; an explanation of this is that the gametes have diverged.

One aspect of the study is to look at the characteristics of the ejaculates of both species, and hybrid males.

TH60-6 Linkam warm stage, and friend, at the Evolutionary Biology Centre

Researcher Murielle Podevin commented: “The warm stage is essential for my work since I need my samples to be kept at 40 degrees exactly so that there is no variation between samples.”

This ongoing research has cross-species implications, and helps scientists understand how other species may have developed. We look forward to finding out more about Murielle’s conclusions. 

By Caroline Feltham

Linkam temperature controlled warm stages chosen as a reliable temperature control solution for the assessment of sperm motility in human fertility testing.

Andrology from the Greek Andros “man” is the medical field that focuses on male health, in particular infertility.

In the NHS Grampian Fertility Centre a Linkam THL60-16 is being used when assessing sperm motility. A standard 10 µl volume of sample is placed onto a clean glass slide and a 22x22mm coverslip is placed on top. The weight of the cover slip spreads the sample to allow the correct depth to be achieved for evaluating sperm motility. The slide is examined as soon as the sample stops drifting. A phase contrast microscope is used to observe the sample at x400 magnification to assess motility.

Human sperm viewed under phase contrast to view motilityApproximately 200 spermatozoa per count are assessed for motility. Spermatozoa can be classified as progressively motile, non-progressively motile or non-motile. The percentage of progressively motile sperm is important to fertility assessment. A man is considered sub-fertile if his sperm count is below the reference values. About 25% of couples of reproductive age are affected by fertility problems, with around 35% of men sub-fertile and 2% infertile. Sperm motility is temperature dependent and in order to assess in vivo fertility assessments should be carried out at 37°C.

Using the warm stage samples can be kept at 37°C while being observed. The warming plate is incredibly thin and a platinum resistor temperature sensor is used for higher accuracy and stability than the more commonly used thermocouple. It is great to know Linkam stages have won the confidence and reliance of so many NHS labs.

A Warm Stage Controller even Apple can be proud of...

We take design very seriously at Linkam.  We don't stop at ensuring that our products excede our users expectations in terms of technical specifications.  We want to deliver a bit of WOW when they open the box.

When it comes to our electronics, we don't just get it working and then throw the bits in any old off the shelf third party box then slap our logo on it.  We consider many factors including, how much space it takes up on a likely already crowded lab bench? How quick and easy it is to set up?  How easy is it to clean spilled solutions?  How simple is it to remove a failed component in the field so that users in obscure locations can repair on site?  How can we ensure that the materials can be recycled at the end of the instruments lifecycle?  How can we ensure that it complies with all the many criteria for low voltage directives necessary for the unit to be used in almost any lab environment anywhere in the world?

When we've answered all of those questions, we still don't let it go into production until we are all satisfied that we've answered the last unmeasurable design challenge.  Do we really like the look and feel of it?

Take a look at the new DC95 Warm stage controller.  Even better temperature control and performance with compact dimensions of just 160 x 104mm and 25mm thick controlled by an in built touch screen display.  Just a warm stage controller? No, I suggest it's quite a bit more.

Posted by Vince Kamp