Hormone-free ‘male pill’ that halts sperm production is a step closer

Scientists may have found the recipe for a  male pill.

In tests, the drug protected against  pregnancy without affecting sex drive or producing other unwelcome  side-effects.

The US research paves the way for a male  version of the contraceptive pill taken by millions of women around the  world.

Taken daily or weekly, it would allow couples  to share the burden of family planning.

A healthy man makes 1,000 sperm with every heartbeat - and just one is needed for conception

A healthy man makes 1,000 sperm with every heartbeat – and just one is needed for conception

Importantly, the results of early experiments  suggest the effects would be temporary, with fertility quickly rebounding on  stopping taking the pill.

The scientists said: ‘The lack of  contraceptive alternatives for men is partially responsible for the high rate of unplanned  pregnancies, especially in teenagers, and contributing to the  maternal mortality, ethical, social and financial costs associated with  abortions and deliveries to single mothers.’

Others pointed out that if the researchers  are successful, they will have created the first effective, non-permanent, male  contraceptive since the advent of the condom, centuries ago.

However, it remains to be seen whether women  would trust their partners to take the drug.

And whether men would want to take a medicine  that reduces their virility, even temporarily.

The quest for a male pill has been thwarted  by the biology of the male body. Whereas a woman releases one egg per month, a  healthy man makes 1,000 sperm with every heartbeat – and just one is needed for  conception.

The search has also been dogged by  side-effects such as hot flushes, mood swings and low sex drive, caused by  hormones in the drugs disrupting the body’s own hormonal balance.

The new drug, which is known only as JQ1,  disrupts a crucial stage of sperm development. It is hormone-free, and in tests  on mice, it did not produce any side-effects.

Sperm production plummeted and what sperm  were made were bad swimmers, the journal Cell reports.

The animals were still interested in sex but,  when the dose of the drug was right, were unable to sire any  pups.

However, when they were taken off the drug,  their fertility quickly returned and they became father to normal-sized,  healthy, litters.

Also in JQ1’s favour is the fact it could be  given in pill-form. Most male contraceptives in development are jabs or  patches.

James Bradner, of the Dana-Farber Cancer  Centre in Boston, said: ‘Our findings demonstrate that when given to rodents,  this compound produces a rapid and reversible decrease in sperm count and  mobility with profound effects on fertility.’

Dr Bradner, who collaborated with scientists  at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, is now improving the recipe of JQ1,  which was first designed to tackle cancer.

He has been given money from the US  government to do this but cautions the need for extensive testing means any male  pill is still a long way from the market.

Mike Wyllie, one of the team of scientists  that discovered and developed Viagra, pointed out that in the tests on mice, the drug  didn’t completely stop sperm production.

He said: ‘Market research has shown that many  women would prefer to take responsibility for contraceptive control rather than  rely on their male partners.

‘The issue for the relationship will be the  reliability; both in the man taking the drug and complete suppression of sperm  production.

‘Conception is an interaction between the egg  and one sperm; the data show considerably less than 100 per cent effective  contraception.’

Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at  Sheffield University, said that the ‘door is wide open’ for the development of a  non-hormonal male pill.

He added: ‘Although the study has only been  performed on mice, it should be fairly easy to test out this approach out on  humans and see whether it works equally well.

‘This is impossible to predict in advance but  it is certainly worth pursuing.’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s