The effect of sperm damage in miscarriage

Tommy’s researchers are carrying out exciting new research that is seeking to understand how damage to the DNA in sperm can increase the risk of miscarriage, and how this can be countered.
  • Author's list

    Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown, Dr Adam Devall, Dr Ioannis Gallos, Dr Justin Chu, Professor Arri Coomarasamy

    Start date: 2016
    End date: 2022

Why do we need this research?

Current research suggests that the presence of DNA damage in sperm can more than double the risk of miscarriage. This is very significant: until now, miscarriage has mostly been thought of as a female problem. In turn, research into the causes and prevention of miscarriage has focused on women and not on men.

At the moment, we don’t know enough about the role of sperm in miscarriage, as there isn’t enough research on the topic. That’s why Tommy’s researchers are looking at whether it is possible to prevent sperm damage and if this might make miscarriage less likely.

What’s happening in this project?

To understand the role of sperm damage in miscarriage, we need to find out how sperm get damaged in the first place. One way this could happen is if sperm come into contact with reactive oxygen species, which are very reactive chemicals that are made naturally by the body but can also come from outside sources such as smoking. The damage these chemicals cause is called oxidative damage.

Our researchers are organising a small pilot trial in 30 couples to test whether antioxidants could be used to prevent miscarriage.

Antioxidants counteract the harmful effects of reactive oxygen species, preventing DNA damage in the sperm. What’s more, they can be taken as dietary supplements, making them a cheap and simple treatment.

The team are inviting couples who have experienced multiple miscarriages to take part in the trial. The men will be screened, and those that have high levels of DNA damage in their sperm will be treated for 6 months with either an antioxidant supplement tablet or a placebo tablet. The researchers will look to see whether the antioxidant treatment has any effect on the quality of the men’s sperm and whether pregnancy outcomes are improved.

What difference will this project make?

The role of sperm damage in miscarriage has been previously overlooked. Our researchers hope their innovative project could give us a new reason for unexplained miscarriage and justify a larger clinical trial to fully test whether treatment with antioxidant supplements can improve sperm quality and help to prevent miscarriage. This research could give couples the explanations they need and help doctors work towards preventing miscarriages in the future.

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. We can keep you updated on ways you can support our work. If you would like to join our fight against baby loss and premature birth, click here.