Male Contraceptive Pill

A drug developed to treat cancer worked as a form of male contraception in mice in a study that may point the way toward a birth control pill for men, researchers said.

Described in the newest issue of Cell, this technique relies on a newly discovered compound that can effectively cross the boundary from blood vessels into the testis. The chemical is a thienodiazepine inhibitor called JQ1, which targets the protein BRDT, which is tied to sperm development.

On JQ1, mice produce fewer sperm, and the ones they produce are much worse swimmers. Even better, the compound doesn’t change testosterone levels, or lead to any apparent decrease in sex drive.

The drug didn’t lower testosterone, interfere with mating or affect health of offspring after JQ1’s use, researchers said.

While scientists don’t plan on studying this specific compound in humans, the finding suggests a similar acting medicine may hold promise for developing the first male birth control pill.

The authors of the study are optimistic, ending their paper by saying:

Because human and mouse BRDT proteins are highly conserved and have nearly identical bromodomain pockets based on our structural predictions, we envision that our discoveries can be completely translated to men, providing a novel and efficacious strategy for a male contraceptive.

The Method

In their experiments, Martin Matzuk, a reproductive biologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and his colleagues injected a BRDT-blocking compound into male mice. This shrank the mice’s testes and reduced their sperm count, and any sperm they did produce were immobile.

When given high doses of the inhibitor, the mice continued to mate with females but sired no offspring. Within a few months of stopping the treatment, the male mice could successfully impregnate females once more.

Matzuk’s team have begun the task of using these findings in the design of a male pill, as they try to pin down more molecular details of how the potential therapy works.

Challenges Ahead

Although it is known that BRDT alters gene activity by changing the configuration of DNA in the nucleus, exactly how this rearrangement goes on to disrupt cell division and the production of sperm is unclear. Furthermore, the BRDT inhibitor might interact directly with its target, or its action may be mediated by other proteins that are similar to BRDT in structure. Creating a more targeted compound is a priority for future research.

However, many obstacles lie ahead for developing a fool-proof contraceptive for male. Developmental abnormalities may occur at the advance stage of research. A single miscarriage in a clinical trial, for example, will halt the trial. On account of risks that may arise out in future led to pharmaceutical companies dropping out of developing male contraceptives.

Presently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has to fund the bulk of male contraceptive development in the United States. Only one method developed through NIH support — a progesterone and testosterone gel — is currently in clinical trials.

Is This Study Different From Previous Ones?

Developing oral contraceptives for men has not gone as swiftly as researchers imagined in the early 1970s, who suggested at the time that a ‘male pill’ was not far off.  But this study holds promise. The method avoids some of the pitfalls of earlier attempts.

The technique appears to have a much more specific action than previous methods: it impairs sperm production by blocking a protein called BRDT. This protein was singled out as a potential therapeutic target five years ago because it only occurs in the testes, where it is required for the division of sperm cells.

If the approach proves safe in humans, it would be an improvement over hormone-based methods of male contraception, which are not completely effective and cause side effects such as mood swings, acne and a loss of libido.

Other Techniques

Testosterone pills and implants are some other techniques which are being analysed by researchers at various laboratories. Researchers are also trying to develop a compound that may block retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is essential for sperm production — without causing the undesirable side effects seen in initial attempts at interfering with its action, which made men feel sick after consuming alcohol.

Oral Pill For Women Turns 50 In 2010

The oral contraceptive pill was first made available in the US in May 1960. The contraceptive pill for the first time gave women control over their own fertility and marked the beginning of a period of huge social and economic change.

With some combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin, the pill works by shutting down signals from the brain that tell the ovaries to release eggs. Without ovulation, pregnancy can’t happen.

It was the first medicine ever designed to be taken regularly by people who were not sick. Its main inventor was a conservative Catholic who was looking for a treatment for infertility and instead found a guarantee of it.

At that time and even today, it was a major medical achievement that rewrote the future of women and family life. It gave women independence from the tyranny of unwanted pregnancies—a big step towards women’s liberation–and freedom from backyard abortions which would put their health and lives at stake.

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