Ultrasounds: Another Step Closer to Male Birth Control?

By Rebecca Jones

For the first time in over a hundred years scientist may be ready to introduce a new form of male birth control. Until now options have been limited to condoms or vasectomies but according to a new study, ultrasound may be the future of birth control.

Originally conceived over 40 years ago by Dr. Mostafa Fahim, the idea of using ultrasound as a contraceptive method is not a new idea. In the 70’s Dr. Fahim had success reducing sperm count in cats, rats, dogs and monkeys and had even tested ultrasound on several human men but subsequent studies had been unable to duplicate his results; until now.

Researchers have made new developments in ultrasound technology that have been successful in reducing sperm count in rats. According to an article on cbsnews.com, scientists at the University of North Carolina have been able to render rats infertile by subjecting them to two 15 minute high frequency ultrasound sessions spaced 2 days apart.

“Unlike humans, rats remain fertile even with extremely low sperm counts,” said James Tsuruta of the UNC School of Medicine, in a journal news release. “However, our noninvasive ultrasound treatment reduced sperm reserves in rats far below levels normally seen in fertile men (95 percent of fertile men have more than 39 million sperm in their ejaculate).”

According to the World Health Organization, men are considered sub-fertile if their sperm count drops below 15 million per milliliter. In the latest study researchers were able to get the rats’ counts lower than 3 million per milliliter suggesting that ultrasounds could provide adequate protection against pregnancy in humans.

While results so far are encouraging further testing needs to be conducted to determine the long term effects of ultrasound as a form of birth control. Researchers do not know how long the procedure remains effective for. Questions have also arisen regarding the long term effects of the procedure; whether it can be repeated more than once and whether it might cause permanent damage to the sperm.  Damaged sperm could possibly lead to birth defects in children, something that researchers want to avoid at all costs.

The study was published yesterday in the January 29th issue of Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology.