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Donor-conceived adults have higher chances of facing immunology diseases

Sperm donors are important contributors to the world of fertility testing and conceiving through artificial means. However, there is new information that could put the option of choosing sperm donors to conceive a child in a more different light.

November 16, 2020
Alisha Chunara

The mechanics of sperm donation

The procedure of sperm donation, also known as third-party reproduction, involves a man producing semen, which is the fluid released during the act of ejaculation that contains numerous sperm cells. The sperm cells in the collected semen will then be injected into either a woman's reproductive organs, known as intrauterine insemination, or into artificially matured eggs in a lab, known as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Photo of doctor holding out a sample container
Sperm donation involves collecting semen samples in order to retrieve the sperm cells present in the semen. Image courtesy of werywell family.

There is a thorough screening process that is conducted before men can be considered as potential sperm donors. This process consists of these different screenings for infectious diseases and selected risk factors:

  • Age - The majority of sperm banks have an age requirement for sperm donor candidates. They need to be between the ages of 18 and 34 or 39.
  • Physical exam - This exam includes drawing blood samples and testing the urine of sperm donor candidates in order to screen for contagious diseases, like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
  • Semen testing - Several samples of semen will be taken to test for the quantity and quality and movement of the sperm cells present in the semen. However, before each sample of semen is provided, the sperm donor candidates will be instructed to abstain from performing the act of ejaculation for at least 48 to 72 hours.
  • Genetic testing - Blood samples will be tested to see if the sperm donor candidates are carriers of any genetic conditions.
  • Family medical history - Sperm donor candidates will need to provide details about their medical histories that go back at least two previous generations, so that the medical histories can be scanned to identify any hereditary diseases which can be a basis for elimination from consideration for donating sperm for sperm donor candidates.
  • Psychological evaluation - Sperm donor candidates will be asked if they are concerned about their personal information being shared with their biological children and about if they are interested in contacting them in the future.
  • Personal and sexual history - A detailed history of sexual activities, drug use, and other personal information that shows whether there is a high probability for developing infectious diseases like HIV will be requested from sperm donor candidates to provide. In addition, sperm donor candidates will also be asked to share detailed information about their education, interests, hobbies, and personal habits. Finally, they may also be requested to provide photos or videos of themselves or audio recordings of their voices.

If you pass these requirements and mandatory screenings and tests, then the selected sperm donors will then be asked to sign a consent form and then be prepped for the actual procedure.

The actual procedure

Two to three days before the actual procedure, the selected sperm donor will be instructed to abstain from the act of ejaculation. Then, on the day of sperm donation, the sperm donor will visit a sperm bank and enter a private room to produce a semen sample in a sterile cup. That sample will then be taken to be frozen, or cryopreserved, and then quarantined for about six months. When the six months have passed, the sperm donor will be tested again for contagious diseases like HIV, and if the sperm donor provides negative tests, then his frozen sample will be defrosted and the quantity, quality, and movement of his sperm cells will be evaluated again-- and if the sample passes the evaluation, then it is deemed acceptable for fertilization.

However, a study has come out that may warrant an evaluation of the sperm testing process.

Image of human sperm cell entering human egg cell
People that want to conceive healthy children, but can’t on their own, rely on sperm donors to fulfil their dreams of having children. However, if the quality of the sperm cannot be fully relied upon to help produce children free of any health complications, then the process of sperm donation can be put into jeopardy. Image courtesy of Times of India.

The study

A study recently conducted by Flinders University's Caring Futures Institute concluded that adults conceived through donated sperm were seven times more likely to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes than naturally conceived adults. In addition, the study also saw double the incidence of acute bronchitis, thyroid disease, and sleep apnoea in adults conceived through donated sperm. Finally, the study found that adults conceived through donated sperm had a 45% chance of having allergies  versus 35% of naturally conceived people having allergies. 

Photo of girl in blue shirt sneezing into a white tissue while outdoors in a meadow
The study basically informs us that people conceived through donated sperm need to have their immune system monitored because of its weakness. Image courtesy of FDA.

These results mean that the health conditions reported by the donor conceived people were caused due to changes to the immunological systems of the donor conceived people. The vital information provided by the study can help parents of children conceived through donated sperm decide on whether to tell their children how they were conceived and well as which healthcare plan their children should receive.  


Donating sperm can help fill the lives of families with the joy of children, but the study shows that there is still progress to be made in the field of sperm testing.

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