Sperm cells have one job in their short 5-day lifespan — to reach and fertilize the female egg cell. If pregnancy rates and birth control failures are any proof, sperm are pretty good at their job. However, sperm may soon have a new skill to add to their resume. According to new research, scientists in Germany want to use sperm’s navigation skills to help deliver drugs to the female reproductive tract faster and more effectively than methods now available.

A study now published online on the arXiv suggests that sperm cells may be an effective tool to help carry and deliver medicine to treat cancers and other diseases of the female reproductive tract. In order to do this, researchers strapped a medicine filled “hat” to sperm, which is programmed to open when the sperm hits a cluster of cancer cells, Gizmodo reported. Although sperm already know what they’re doing when it comes to navigating inside the female reproductive tract, the “hat” also has a magnet on it so that doctors can better guide the sperm right to cancerous cells. Study co-author Mariana Medina-Sánchez told MIT Technology Review that, based on their results, “sperm-hybrid systems may be envisioned to be applied in in situ cancer diagnosis and treatment in the near future."

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Results showed that, while the “hats” significantly slowed down sperm speed by up to 43 percent, 15 out of the 22 medicine-equipped sperm cells tested were able to successfully release their drugs, The Indy 100 reported. In addition, this method was more effective at killing tumor cells within the first 48 hours than traditional drug administration of the same dosage. However, these experiments occurred in a lab setting and not inside an actual body. In addition, the team tested this method using bull sperm, which are similar in size to human sperm, but ultimately, are not human sperm.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are five main types of gynecologic cancers; cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar. About 100,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, MIT Technology Review reported. Although all women are at risk, this risk increases with age. Having a more effective way to treat these cancers could potentially save many lives. Still, it may be some time before this theory becomes practice. For example, perhaps the most important hurdle to overcome is how to ensure that the sperm doesn’t impregnate the patient after it has effectively delivered drugs to her tumor. Although off to a good start, more research is needed.

Source: Xu H, Medina Sanchez M, Magdanz V, Schwarz L, Hebenstreit F, Schmidt OG. Sperm-hybrid micromotor for drug delivery in the female reproductive tract. arXiv . 2017

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