A Day in the Life of Senior Andrologist, Amber Chivers
In our latest Day in the Life blog, we speak to Amber Chivers, Senior Andrologist, who works between our Harley Street and London Bridge clinics. She talks to us about her last ten years working at the LWC and what her day job involves.
My name is Amber Chivers and I’m a Senior Andrologist at the LWC Harley Street and London Bridge. I’m originally from Queensland Australia and studied Biochemistry and Genetics at university. This included a module in reproduction and a guest lecture from Keith Harrison the Director of the Queensland Fertility Group. It was the first time I heard that lesbians could legally have fertility treatment – I didn’t even know it was possible! Soon after that I got a job working in the sperm bank in his clinic, which paved the way for me applying for a job with LWC on the off chance I might get it. I hadn’t planned on moving to London before that and I didn’t even have a passport when I applied for the position advertised at the LWC! It took four months to sort out my visa and passport and I was then on my way to starting at my dream job!
A day in my life
My normal day includes prepping the sperm samples for the intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedures that day, performing semen analyses and freezing sperm for London Sperm Bank. I also advise patients on imported donor sperm and known sperm donation.
Performing a semen analysis
To do a semen analysis I first need to a take a drop of the semen and put it on a slide which goes under the microscope. I then analyse the sperm count, morphology and motility of the sample.
Measuring the sperm count
To be considered “normal” the sperm count must be at least 15 million sperm per millilitre. Obviously, I don’t count 15 million sperm. Instead we use a fixed volume and a grid that has 10 x 10 squares. I then count how many sperm are in 10 squares and that gives total concentration per millilitre. Sometimes this can be quite difficult if the sperm are moving very fast or if the concentration is very high!
Analysing the morphology of sperm
To look at the morphology I need to zoom in closely to the individual sperm, 40x or 100x zoom. The sperm needs to have a normal head, mid piece and tail. In humans, most sperm are abnormal. As long as no more than 96% of sperm are abnormal, this is considered acceptable. Sometimes sperm can have two or three tails or tails that are not straight (so might be kinked or coiled). The midpiece of the sperm must be uniform so not too long or too short and should be centred and symmetrical with the head. The shape of the head should be a nice oval or almond shape and not too round. The tip of the head is where the enzymes that help attack the egg are stored so if the sperm doesn’t have these enzymes then it won’t be able to penetrate the egg.
Assessing the motility of sperm
Lastly, I need to analyse the motility and progression of the sperm. This means assessing how straight and fast the sperm swim. The sperm will then be either categorised as progressive, non-progressive or immotile. Non-progressive sperm could mean that sperm twitch or swim in circles. These sperm could be used in ICSI treatment and are counted towards total motile concentration.
The best part of my job
I started off working in the sperm bank and this is still the part of my job I like the most. I specialise in known sperm donation which is when a patient brings their own donor to the clinic. This could be a friend or non-blood relation. I look after all the cases at our London clinics and co-ordinate the donor process including communicating with the patients and the known donors.
We also have patients who need to have their sperm samples frozen ahead of cancer treatment. This often happens at short notice when they have just been given a diagnosis and are due to start radiotherapy imminently. Whatever we are doing in the laboratory we always make time so that they can store enough samples before their cancer treatment starts. I enjoy helping these men and providing reassurance that they have viable sperm for the future.
Well, I’m currently 19 weeks pregnant with my first baby with my wife Bev! We had IVF treatment using donor sperm from a bank overseas. Our lives are about to look completely different and we can’t wait! We’ve just moved out of London and we’re looking forward to visiting my family in Australia with the new baby at Christmas. Then Bev will start investigations for her to use the same donor to have baby number two. I met Bev within about 4 months of moving to London and we got married in 2012. She’s a chef and we enjoy going on cycling holidays and watching Chelsea women’s football team play. Hobbies that we hope our little one(s) will also enjoy.
Going through fertility treatment myself means I can understand the anxiety that our patients go through. For me the five days waiting for the embryos to develop was hard, even harder than the two week wait! I care so much about the journey our patients go through and I try my best to make sure they have all the information they need and that their journey runs as smoothly as possible.
Having IVF myself I learnt so much more about embryos and how they work. When I return to work after maternity leave I hope to start training in embryology through the relatively new scientific training programme at the LWC.