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New diagnostic tool gives hope to the childless

Portrait Kushagr Punyani

WHO estimates between 48 to 186 million couples face infertility. Half the time it’s due to the male factor. The medical technology company Spermosens, with the Lund inventor and alumnus Kushagr Punyani as founder, can make a difference with the diagnostic tool JUNO-Checked, which assesses the sperms’ ability to bind to the egg cell and then be able to fertilise.

From India to Sweden 

As a 23-year-old, Kushagr Punyani, founder of Spermosens, decided to move from India and start researching at Lund University and NanoLund in 2014. In a deserted but beautiful summer-empty Lund, he at first did not experience any culture shock. But as time went on, he learned to appreciate the cultural differences, but also the open atmosphere that existed between researchers.  

“We were over 100 researchers in my department at NanoLund and it was a fantastic environment that I had not experienced before. Having all this knowledge gathered and being able to talk openly and easily without hiding anything was very good”, says Kushagr Punyani. 

Life as a researcher was a way of life for Kushagr Punyani, as for so many others. The thoughts, both at NanoLund and at home in the apartment, always revolved around his and others’ experiments in microfluidics and the process of working on his dissertation. Microfluidics is about how liquids, when physically limited to micrometer scale, are measured and manipulated. This technology can be used for medical diagnostics.

 Already back in 2011 Kushagr Punyani did an internship on contraceptive vaccines at National Institute of Immunology in New Delhi. Contraceptive vaccines use proteins that are similar to the ones important in fertilisation. The vaccines generate an immune response in the organism which then prevents fertilisation and pregnancy. 

“It was during this time I started thinking if these proteins are effective enough to prevent pregnancy, they must have a significance in diagnosing and predicting fertility.”

He worked on this research idea during his bachelors and master´s thesis in India at the lab of Prof Sudha Srivastava Jaypee at Institute of Information Technology.  

The step to commercialisation

As early as 2014, researchers in the UK had discovered the JUNO protein on egg cells, which plays a crucial role in the sperm and egg cell binding and fertilisation. But the British researchers themselves did not propose that it could be of diagnostic use.

After an hour-long meeting with the Lund-based company Ecozyme AB, they decided which direction to take.

Spermosens first product JUNO-Checked can examine the sperms’ ability to bind to and fertilise the egg cell. The system consists of a measuring instrument and a disposable cassette. After the sperm sample is suitably applied to the cassette, you can see a result within 30 minutes. This means that couples facing infertility can be offered the right kind of treatment at IVF clinics around the world faster and more efficiently.

“The first cassettes were prepared on my kitchen table in my apartment by Prof Sudha Srivastava and it was extremely exciting”, says Kushagr Punyani.

After a successful meeting with investors, medical technology company Spermosens was formed in 2018 and it changed Kushagr Punyani´s professional life. Today, you do not find him in a lab, but his time is spent leading his team, finding the right people to work with and keeping track of financial and corporate developments.

“The transition from being a researcher to a manager was organic and I enjoy my new role. I have the advantage that I know what resources are required because I have been a researcher. My time at NanoLund with research in microfluidics I could never have learnt from a textbook”.

The launch

Spermosens believes in a major impact on the market with a product that IVF clinics can buy for a fraction of today’s total cost of a treatment in Europe.

There is also a well-thought-out idea behind establishing the company Spermosens in Sweden.

“There are several reasons why Sweden is an ideal country to work with this. There is a great deal of openness when it comes to collaboration, it is easier to find resources and there is a general acceptance of medical technology. Moreover, Sweden is at the forefront of IVF both in policy and practice”.

How does it feel to be a part of making the dream come true for so many people who long to have a child?

“It is my responsibility to help because I see a great need for the development of IVF treatments and that no one else is on the trail. I feel that Spermosens is my baby”.

TEXT: Bodil Malmström


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