Potential breakthrough for MALE birth control pill as scientists discover gene that can temporarily switch off sperm
- Washington State University team found gene during study on rodents
- Blocking or deactivating it with drugs leads to a reduced sperm count
- But simply stopping the medication would allow the gene to reactivate
A breakthrough in DNA research could lead to a reversible male contraceptive that works by causing temporary infertility.
Scientists have discovered a gene that is responsible for normal sperm production in humans and other mammals.
Blocking or deactivating it with drugs leads to a reduced sperm count, reduced movement and an abnormal shape, a new study has found.
But simply stopping the medication would allow the gene to reactivate and make the patient produce normal sperm again, experts suggest.
It comes as US Government-funded researchers edge closer to developing a functional male contraceptive pill.
The research could mean we are one step closer to the male contraceptive pill
A team from Washington State University used laboratory mice to see whether deactivating the Arrdc5 gene would affect their fertility.
Analysis revealed these mice produced 28 percent less sperm than their normal counterparts, and that the majority of this sperm was damaged and moved nearly three times slower.
Professor Jon Oatley, one of the study’s authors, said: ‘The study identifies this gene for the first time as being expressed only in testicular tissue, nowhere else in the body.
‘When this gene is inactivated or inhibited in males they make sperm that cannot fertilise an egg, and that’s a prime target for male contraceptive development.’
Targeting male fertility in this way would not require any hormonal interference, the team said, and the process could be reversible.
‘You don’t want to wipe out the ability to ever make sperm – just stop the sperm that are being made from being made correctly,’ Professor Oatley said.
‘Then, in theory, you could remove the drug and the sperm would start being built normally again.’
Having a male contraceptive that does not rely on hormones is important because testosterone plays other roles beyond sperm production in men, the researchers said.
While other male contraceptives are currently being tested, the only options available at the moment are a vasectomy or condoms.
As a result of their findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers are now working on a drug for humans and have filed a patent for a contraceptive blocking the protein made by this gene.
‘Developing a way to curb population growth and stop unwanted pregnancies is really important for the future of the human race,’ Professor Oatley added.
‘Right now, we don’t really have anything on the male side for contraception other than surgery and only a small percentage of men choose vasectomies.
‘If we can develop this discovery into a solution for contraception, it could have far-ranging impacts.’
Earlier this year, separate scientists announced they had found an equivalent of the male contraceptive pill that could be taken half an hour before sex.
Used in mice, the treatment prevented 100 percent of pregnancies over around two hours by stopping sperm swimming towards eggs, or maturing so that it is able to fertilize an egg to create a baby.
The researchers, from Cornell University in New York, said they hope it could be used by men, last for 16 hours and then wear off the next day.