An On-Switch to Turn a Sperm on to Move: Development of a Male Hormonal Contraceptive System for Pregnancies
Before the sperm canfertilize an egg, it needs to swim through the female reproductive tract and meet an egg in the fallopian tube. Researchers have found a way to stop the sperm from swimming if they wanted to develop male contraceptives.
“Our lab found the on-switch that turns sperm on to move,” says Jochen Buck, a pharmacologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-author on the paper, “And we’ve now developed a compound which inhibits it.”
The work of preventing unwanted pregnancies often falls to women who take birth control pills, get an IUD implanted or wear vaginal rings, and if they fail, take the morning-after pill.
The drug targets the same mechanism in sperm as it does in many mammals. The researchers are now trying it on rabbits, and aim to start human trials in two to three years.
Lonny was surprised by his reaction. This means we could develop a male contraceptive,'” Buck recalls, “And my reaction was, ‘Lonny, it’s even better. We can have an on-demand male contraceptive.'”
There was a lot of sex between the male and female mice during those hours. Within 2.5 hours after getting the drug, it was100% effective at preventing pregnancies. It was effective in 3.5 hours.
Dr. John Amory, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, who is currently researching a form of male hormonal contraception on human subjects, says the new compound is a “great idea.”
He said that it’s an open question how well this approach would translate from mice to humans. “There are differences in the reproductive physiology between species, but it’s worth testing.”
Some other experimental concepts, like hormonal pills, gels and injections for men, can take weeks to start working. Some can cause a range of disorders, including mood disorders and alcohol tolerance. The tolerance for side effects is going to be very low since contraceptives are geared toward men who are healthy.
According to the researchers, the study subjects fared well. “Look, our mice would never have intercourse if they were in pain,” Buck says. He hopes that the drug will be available around eight years from now.
Is this realistic? Possibly. “The joke in the field is: a male contraceptive has been 5 to 10 years away for the last 40 years,” says Amory. “It’s always just around the corner.” Technology does continue to move forward, he says, and eventually, society will get there.