For the last few decades, the burden of contraception has fallen on the woman’s shoulders, but judging by recent research in the US, we may be closer to having a male version of the contraceptive pill that is taken by millions of women worldwide. The hormone free pill has been tested and has shown that it protected against pregnancies, did not affect sexual virility and had no other worrying side effects. The male pill works by stopping the production of sperm, and whilst it has been ‘relatively easy’ for a female contraceptive to work, as it only has one egg to contend with, a typical male produces around 1,000 sperm per heartbeat. With only one sperm needed to fertilise an egg, researchers had to be extremely confident that no sperm would get anywhere near an egg.
One worry about a male contraceptive pill is how it would affect the sex drive of the male taking it, but early results have shown that normal sperm count was resumed and fertility was quickly restored when the drug was stopped. And the results of these early experiments show that normal sperm production quickly resumed once the males stopped taking the drug. If the male pill does work, it would mean that males could share the responsibility of contraception and family planning, and it might go some way of reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, especially teenage pregnancies. The researchers behind the new drug says, “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.” And others added that if this drug is successful it will be the first, effective and non permanent male contraceptive since the condom was invented, all those years ago.
The big question, however, is would a woman trust a man to take the drug in the first place? And would men be reluctant to take a pill that could reduce their virility, if only on a temporary level? The drug, called JQ1 has so far only been tested on mice and at the start of the experiments, other drugs showed side effects such as hot flushes, mood swings and low sex drive, caused by hormones in the drugs which appeared to disrupt the body’s own hormonal balance. This new drug, which is works by disrupting a crucial stage of sperm development. It is hormone-free, and when tested on mice, it did not produce any side-effects. Sperm production fell considerably and if any sperm were made they turned out to be bad swimmers, the journal Cell reports. The good news is that the mice were still interested in sex but, when the dose of the drug was correct, they were unable to sire any pups. When the drug was removed, the mice quickly returned to fathering healthy litters of pups.
So far most male contraceptives are only available in an injectable form or patches, but JQ1 could be given in a pill. James Bradner, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Centre in Boston, has been collaborating with scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, to now improve the recipe of JQ1, which was first designed to tackle cancer. He 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.” The US government have donated funds to this research but Dr Bradner warns that the male contraceptive is still a long way off. However, Mike Wyllie, one has spoken out and said that n the experiments on mice, the drug didn’t completely stop sperm production. He added, “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.”
If we have any more news on this exciting development we will let you know.