Scientists in Japan may have finally found the answer when it comes to creating a contraceptive “male pill,” reports Science Alert.
For years, the possibility of a male pill has been explored and talked about, in the hope that responsibility for contraception can be balanced in a more equal way between men and women. But the hope has remained unfulfilled, with a reliable but temporary form of male contraception proving elusive.
A recent study showed that half of American men would be willing to use a contraceptive pill if one were available, and that willingness may soon be put to the test after a team at Osaka University’s Research Institute for Microbial Diseases found a way to disable sperm.
Experiments on making male mice temporarily infertile proved successful by blocking a specific protein in mouse sperm that also exists in humans.
The first stage of their research involved testing the effects of “knocking out” two genes which they theorized to only exist in the protein called calcineurin. The results showed that blocking the genes in this protein led to less flexible and agile sperm that were not capable of fertilizing eggs.
This led the research team to test two existing drugs — cyclosporine A and tacrolimus – which are already known to inhibit calcineurin. The mice were given these two drugs, and their sperm became temporarily infertile after four to five days, and a week after the drugs were stopped the sperm became fertile again.
The two drugs used are prescribed to suppress the immune system in humans, and the research did not conclude that they should be used for male contraception. Rather they cite their evidence as grounds for the further development of an alternative drug that specifically targets the calcineurin in sperm.
Professor Masahito Ikawa, the lead researcher, underlined his belief in the importance of finding an effective, reversible, and reliable form of contraception that allows men to take greater responsibility when it comes to birth control.
“It is important that we find an effective and reversible contraceptive option to allow men more control over their own reproductive futures. The findings of this study may be a key step to giving men that control”
At present, the only choices available to men are the surgical procedure of a vasectomy which leads to permanent sterilization, and condoms. Condoms are simple to use and convenient but have a real-world annual pregnancy rate of 18 percent — the equivalent of guessing a dice roll in terms of probability — and are unpopular with many because they reduce sexual sensation.
There are a number of male contraceptives in research and development, but the Osaka study has shown the most promise when it comes to finding a temporary, reliable, and non-hormonal method.
One of those alternatives is a treatment called Vasalgel and human trials are expected to start next year. Vasalgel is a gel that can be injected into a man’s vas deferens, the tube that carries sperm, and it is hoped this method could offer a reversible, surgery-free alternative to vasectomy. Known technically as RISUG, intellectual property rights to RISUG in the United States were acquired between 2010–2012 by the Parsemus Foundation, a not-for-profit organization.
Speaking to HealthDay, the executive director of the Male Contraception Initiative in Washington, Aaron Hamlin, said that “existing male contraceptives don’t come close to filling the need” and highlighted the lack of funding for research into developing alternatives.
“Foundation and government grants are almost non-existent for male contraceptives. For the pill, that funding was through philanthropist Katharine McCormick. But we’ve yet to find our modern-day McCormick. There’s this unfortunate myth that contraception is forever the woman’s responsibility.”
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