Measuring free radicals with relaxometry: Pioneering steps for measurements in human semen

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A possible biological mechanism for unexplained male infertility is due to the effect of oxidative stress (OS), defined by the imbalance of reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, and the capacity of the antioxidant defence system to counteract it. In physiological concentrations, ROS and especially free radicals play an essential role in sperm maturation and fertilization, while an overabundance could lead to OS-induced damage to spermatozoa. To date, there are no direct detection techniques available that can measure the total amount of free radicals real time and identify where and when free radicals are generated. This study applies a quantum sensing technique using fluorescent nanodiamonds (FNDs), called T1 relaxometry, which is uniquely sensitive and specific for free radicals allowing measurements of the current radical load for nanoscale detection in living cells and body fluids. This proof-of-principle study investigates if we can use this technique to detect the free radical generation in human whole and separated, using density gradient centrifugation, semen. This method could be potentially used as new diagnostic measure for unexplained infertility or to track the effect of therapeutic interventions such as lifestyle changes. We adapted the existing relaxometry technique to measure free radicals in semen. The measured relaxation time (T1 time) was correlated to sperm concentration and progressive motility. Additionally, we explored the influence of the oxidative trigger hydrogen peroxide and the antioxidant glutathione on the free radical concentration measured. No significant correlations were found, which indicates that measurements in more proximity of the sperm cell are required to use relaxometry as a potential diagnostic
tool for unexplained male infertility.
Original languageEnglish
Article number110388
Number of pages7
JournalDiamond and Related Materials
Issue numberA
Early online date9-Sept-2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2023


  • Oxidative stress
  • Free radicals
  • Human semen
  • Diamond magnetometry
  • Relaxometry
  • fluorescent nanodiamond (FND)


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