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EPSRC Reference: EP/R041407/1
Title: Born Slippy: A Tribological Discourse on Hysterosalpingography as a Therapeutic Treatment for Infertile Women
Principal Investigator: Dearn, Professor KD
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Mechanical Engineering
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 April 2018 Ends: 29 July 2021 Value (£): 252,693
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Eng. Dynamics & Tribology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
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Summary on Grant Application Form
Blocked fallopian tubes are a common cause of female infertility. When seeking treatment for this, the first stage of any intervention will be a search for tube blockages. This procedure involves inserting a dye into the uterus that can then be used to screen how well the tubes are open using x-ray. This medical technique is called hysterosalpingography. The dye or contrast used is either a poppy seed oil based emulsion or water. A recent study led by Prof. Ben Mol at the University of Adelaide has shown a 10% increase in the rates of pregnancy and births for women who received the oil-based contrast. This is a remarkable result given that more common fertility treatment such as Intrauterine insemination raises pregnancy rates by 1 or 2 %. The underlying mechanisms, however, that explain how fertility is enhanced are not clear. It has been suggested that tubal patency testing with an oil contrast flushes debris and dislodges mucus when the fallopian tubes are undamaged. This does not explain why water does not exhibit similarly impressive effects.

The transport of the ovum (or oocyte) from the ovary to the womb is essentially a tribological process. Poppy seed oil is composed, amongst other things of fatty acids and esters both of which are very good at improving the frictional response, or lubricity, of a given system. Good lubricity may help the oocyte to move more easily through the tube, may the prevent the formation of debris in the tubes, prevent the fallopian tubes from closing and/ or aid sperm mobility. All of these effects can be explained by understanding tribology of the system.

This research sets out an ambitious goal of measuring the tribological properties of this Mol's observed phenomenon. At its centre is the use of a novel method to nondestructively measure the frictional properties of an oocyte in transit through a simulated fallopian tube using direct observation, mechanical modelling and a machine-learning algorithm.

Infertility is a big problem. 186 million women in the developed world are affected by it, equivalent to one in four adults. By understanding the underlining tribology of HSG therapy and the interaction between specific components within the contrast, the surfaces within the reproductive and the physiological reproductive process, a new tailored and extremely effective approach to the treatment of female infertility could be developed.

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Organisation Website: http://www.bham.ac.uk