Health Magazine

Male Contraceptive Pill a Possibility, Say Edinburgh Scientists

By Periscope @periscopepost

Male contraception: Not just condoms any more?

Male contraception: Not just condoms any more? photo: Corey Ann

The background

A male birth control pill? Scientists say it could be on its way. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh believe that they have discovered the gene responsible for the production of healthy sperm – meaning that it may be feasible to produce a male contraceptive pill that affects this gene, reported the BBC.

Scientists were able to isolate the gene in mice, and the researchers believe that they may be able to produce a reversible, non-hormonal contraceptive. Currently, male contraceptive measures are largely limited to condoms, vasectomies, or the extremely risky withdrawal method. Scientists have hailed this discovery as “a unique and significant step forward” — Dr Allan Pacey, from the University of Sheffield, told the BBC that the discovery is the “Holy Grail” — whilst other commentators see this a step forward for equal responsibility for contraception.

So how would this new pill work? And what are the benefits?

How would this ‘Holy Grail’ of research work?

The gene is called Katnal1 and is responsible for “microtubules” in the testes which form part of the cells that provide specific nutrients to developing sperm. Blocking this gene would allow only “immature, ineffective sperm which had not developed into the final stages” to be released, sperm that would be unable to fertilise an egg, say The Telegraph.

Why is this so great?

One of the main advantages is that it would be an easily reversible treatment, unlike the vasectomy, and would not affect the man’s overall ability to produce healthy sperm. The Independent also noted that this new treatment would be non-hormonal, unlike the current female contraceptive pill – helping men avoid side-effects such as irritability, tiredness, loss of sex drive and acne. The discovery could also mean that women would no longer have to take the majority of responsibility for contraception: As The Herald Sun said, men could start “wearing the pants when it comes to contraception”.

But would men use male birth control?

The short answer is probably, claimed Sophie at Citing a 2008 survey from sex charity FPA that showed that more than a third of the men polled would use a hormonal contraception, she reported that the charity claim that male contraception is important for “male sexual empowerment”. But, Sophie noted, “When news stories of potential male contraceptives are released, the enthusiasm of the potential discovery always seems to be tempered by quotes from sceptics, who claim that men either can’t be bothered to take birth control pills, or that women can’t trust them to do so. Cynics usually weigh in as well, pointing out that pharmaceutical companies don’t really want birth control options for men – especially not in the form of a cheap, one-off injection – because money-making in that area is limited. Whether you believe this is true or not will depend on your own levels of cynicism.”
This guy would:

So, when can I get in line for this male birth control?

— Cresident Bobb (@CresidentBob) May 20, 2012

What other options are there?

There have also been other discoveries recently in male contraception, most recently the invention of a gel that can be injected into the vas deferens in the testes to block the majority of sperm getting through. The Golden Gate Express say that this new method is “reversible and 100 percent effective”, lasts for 10 years, and is the advanced stages of clinical trials in India. The downside: “It’s a needle straight into the scrotum. That’s right, guys: a giant needle into your ball sack.” The BBC also reported earlier in May on the potential uses of medical ultrasound, currently used for sports therapy, which could be a “reliable, low-cost, non-hormonal contraception from a single round of treatment”.

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