A new, experimental approach to male birth control immobilizes sperm
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
OK. The work of taking precautions to prevent an unwanted pregnancy often falls on women, right? But scientists are making progress on more options for men. NPR's Pien Huang reports on a new form of male contraception that looks promising in mice.
PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Jochen Buck is a pharmacologist at Weill Cornell Medical School. He researches new drugs. Five years ago, a postdoc in his lab tried something on a whim. She took a compound they were testing on mice for an eye problem and checked its effects on sperm. The results were stunning.
JOCHEN BUCK: Wow. This means we could develop a male contraceptive, and my reaction was, it's even better. We can have an on-demand male contraceptive.
HUANG: The drug stops sperm from swimming. It was fast-acting, took about 15 minutes to have an effect, and it was temporary. It lasted for about three hours. In those three hours, the male mice and female mice had plenty of sex, and the female mice did not get pregnant. The results are published in Nature Communications. I'll say it again. This was a study on mouse sperm. But the drug's target is the same across many species. Buck has great hopes that it will work the same way in men.
BUCK: The prediction is after half an hour or after five hours or after eight hours, sperms do not move. And a day later, two days later, they are back to normal.
HUANG: Trials in people are two to three years away. Mike Eisenberg, director of the Male Reproductive Medicine Center at Stanford, says he's cautiously optimistic.
MIKE EISENBERG: There's certainly no question there's a big need. You know, when you look at surveys of men or young men, a lot of them would be very interested in having some options that are available.
HUANG: He says current options are limited for men.
EISENBERG: You know, the choices are vasectomy, condoms or abstinence.
HUANG: Other experimental options, like pills and injections for men, can take weeks to start working. Some can cause mood disturbances or shrink people's testicles. The side effects for this potential treatment aren't yet known. Still, Buck says the mice in the study fared well.
BUCK: Look. Our mice would never have intercourse if they would be in pain.
HUANG: If all goes well with the research, Buck says the drug might be available in about eight years. Pien Huang, NPR News.
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