New method of male birth control could stop sperm in its tracks


A team of British researchers has found a way to alter cow sperm and reduce male fertility by stopping the sperm from swimming.

The discovery, if replicated in human sperm, could be used to develop new forms of male contraception, the scientists announced last week. The same method could also be used to boost sperm flow for enhanced fertility treatments.

“We hope to develop something that will be clinically useful and can be taken forward in the future,” Sarah Jones, a pharmacology lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton in England, said in a press release.

Jones and her research partner John Howl, a professor at Wolverhampton, are both part of the university’s Molecular Pharmacology Research Group.

The duo has teamed up with the University of Aveiro in Portugal on a three-year, €194,000 (about $211,136) project to study ways to control the functions of sperm.

Sarah Jones of the University of Wolverhampton's Molecular Pharmacology Research Group.

Sarah Jones of the University of Wolverhampton’s Molecular Pharmacology Research Group.

Image: university of wolverhampton

Their research primarily focuses on peptides, the chains of amino acids that are the building blocks of protein. 

Jones and Howl said they found they could design peptides to break through cell walls and alter the function and fertilization capacity of bovine sperm. The results have not yet been published in a scientific journal.

“Ironically, sperm are notoriously difficult to penetrate,” Jones said in the university press release. 

“But with cell-penetrating peptides, we are now able to cross an otherwise impermeable barrier to manipulate the intracellular biology of sperm, so as to enhance or inhibit motility” — that is, to make it easier or harder for sperm to get around.

The British researchers said their partners in Portugal may repeat the same experiments using human sperm for further testing.

For decades, the burden of birth control and fertilization methods have fallen mainly to women. 

David Bishai, a professor at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was not involved in the project, said male contraception “is badly needed.”

Researchers have found men are generally interested in new types of contraception and hypothetically willing to try them, Bishai wrote in his 2012 paper on the demand for male contraception.

Yet no viable birth control exists for men, apart from wearing condoms, abstaining from sex or getting a vasectomy. 

“You really don’t have great options,” he told Mashable. 

Research efforts have been largely stymied by the lack of investment from large pharmaceutical companies, he said. Many of the advances in male contraception have instead come from public entities and non-profit organizations.

For instance, the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is holding clinical trials to test new hormonal methods of male contraception. The methods involve applying two different gels to the skin — one with a progestin, one with testosterone — on a daily basis to stop sperm production.

The Parsemus Foundation, a medical non-profit, has developed Vasalgel, a non-hormonal gel that is injected into the vas deferens — the duct that carries sperm from testicles to urethra — and blocks the sperm, although the procedure is reversible.

“The private pharmaceutical research in male contraception has been so limited,” Bishai said. “Why doesn’t the market understand that men have been left behind?”

from Mashable!