According to the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers were able to inhibit a protein in mouse sperm that rendered them temporary infertile. Though mouse studies do not always match human biology, the protein is also present in men.
Scientists have long suspected that the protein called calcineurin may be linked to male fertility, but because the protein have different variants, researchers weren’t able to tell which variant could render males infertile.
They first shut down two genes in the protein to see what happened. They learned that the sperm was not able to fertilize eggs. Next, the team tested two drugs known to inhibit calcineurin on mice. In about five days, the animals became infertile. But a week after they weren’t given the pills, the mice were back to normal.
The two drugs are used in autoimmune diseases and after organ transplant procedures to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ. Masahito Ikawa, lead author of the study and epidemiology researcher at Osaka University in Japan, explained that the two drugs are not safe to be taken as contraceptives.
The team plans to design a drug that can only target the said protein, rather than playing around with the immune system. To date, the only male contraceptive methods are vasectomy, which requires surgery and is often permanent, and condoms.
Sexual health experts said that there is a need of an alternative contraceptive method for males as the two options have their drawbacks. For instance, the pregnancy rate in people using condom is 18 percent, a study showed, making the method unreliable.
Women have more options, but some for those options are not safe for their health or make them feel uncomfortable.
“There’s this unfortunate myth that contraception is forever the woman’s responsibility,”
one sexologist noted.
Yet before the pill, the only effective contraceptive measure couples had at hand was male condoms. Additionally, according to a recent survey about 50 percent of men said that they would take a hormonal contraceptive if there was one on the market.
But the newly found method is ‘non-hormonal,’ thus making it safer and less likely to lead to side-effects on the long run. Other researchers also work on a male contraceptive called Vasalgel, which is a gel that needs to be injected in the tube that carries sperm.
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