By Steele Bradshaw
Women’s birth control has become so ubiquitous that the thought of a birth control for men is rarely considered. That is all about to change in the near future. Several research laboratories have stumbled upon discoveries that could potentially change the way society deals with birth control. What if birth control were no longer exclusively women’s territory? It turns out that a fully functional male birth control is not so far away.
There have been several steps forward in the development of a men’s birth control. Both hormonal and non-hormonal forms are under heavy research. Most recently, a birth control gel has been developed by the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute that lowers sperm count. In contrast with previous attempts to develop a hormone-based men’s birth control, the gel seems to have limited side effects. Funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, researchers state that the gel still requires considerably more testing but shows immense potential.
The gel contains testosterone and a synthetic progestin called Nestorone, a new synthetic Progestin, created by the Population Council. Progestin, which has been used in many past attempts at a male birth control, amplifies testosterone’s ability to turn off the production of reproductive hormones that control sperm production. The use of Nestorone is significant because unlike Progestin, which often produces side effects such as acne and changes in cholesterol levels, Nestorone does not have such side effects.
The gel was recently tested at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where 99 men were subjected to the study for six months. A third of the men received a gel containing testosterone and a placebo, while the rest received a gel containing testosterone and Nestorone. Approximately 89% of the men who received the drug with Nestorone saw a sperm concentration of less than 1 million sperm per milliliter, as compared with only 23% of the placebo patients. There was also a complete absence of sperm in approximately 78% of the men receiving the drug with Nestorone. The future of this male birth control gel seems very promising in the eyes of leading science and medical researchers.
A subset of medical researchers believes that the future of male birth control lies in non-hormonal drugs. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have recently discovered a gene know as Katnal1 that may have a tremendous impact in the medical world. Katnal1 is essential for the development of sperm and is used to regulate microtubules, parts of sperms that provide support and allow for the acquisition of nutrients. Led by Dr. Lee Smith, researches have executed many successful experiments on mice in which temporary infertility in male mice has been caused by blocking Katnal1.
Researchers discovered the impact of Katnal1 after treating a group of mice with ENU, a chemical that triggers mutations in the DNA. The mice were then bred and, after establishing a group of infertile mice, researchers used genetic mapping to identify Katnal1 as the disruptive cause. This is a breakthrough discovery as the effect of Katnal1 in the testes had been previously unknown. The discovery could not only result in a new form of male birth control, but could also advance the understanding of male infertility. Researches now face the challenge of properly regulating the on and off switch of the Katnal1.
Currently, there are several pathways that may result in a omnipresent male birth control of the future. For now, however, there is a race to a side-effect free solution involving both hormonal and non-hormonal players. Nonetheless, researchers are on the verge of a breakthrough in regulating male fertility.