Experimental Male Birth-Control Drug Shows Promise in New Study

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This picture taken on September 28, 2022 shows a computer monitor displaying magnified donor sperm at Keio University Hospital in Tokyo. (Photo by Yuichi YAMAZAKI / AFP)

Lab results show that a new “on-demand” male birth control drug can temporarily prevent sperm from maturing and swimming in mice.

The study, which was published Tuesday in Nature Communications, found that the drug stops sperm from maturing and swimming within 30 minutes after it was injected into lab mice. About 2.5 hours after the injection, sperm began to regain mobility, and by 24 hours later, the mice had regained full fertility again.

This lab results show promise for a new birth control method made specifically for cisgender men, who presently only have two effective methods to prevent pregnancy: vasectomies and condoms. Responsibility for preventing pregnancy largely falls on cisgender women, who have more access to birth control methods, including hormonal contraceptives like the birth control pill, a hormonal implant or a hormonal shot, as well as intrauterine contraceptive methods.

“This innovative, on-demand, non-hormonal strategy represents a previously untested concept in contraception, which has the potential to provide equity between the sexes and, like the advent of oral birth control for women, revolutionize family planning,” the study said.

Even though the lab results in mice show promise for a male birth control pill, the study is still likely years away from conducting human trials.

Male hormonal methods, like a daily birth control pill, to prevent pregnancy have shown success, but many efforts were abandoned because of unwanted side effects, the new study said. Hormonal methods in male contraceptives can require months for the drug to start working and could also need months to reverse its effects, the study said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 percent of women use a daily oral contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy. Combined hormonal daily birth control side effects for women can include headache, upset stomachs, menstrual cycle changes, mood changes, weight gain and high blood pressure, according to the Office of Women’s Health in the Department of Human and Health Services. More uncommon but serious risks could also include blood clots, strokes and heart attacks, according to the office.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, many people are worried that restrictions on emergency contraception methods, like IUDs and drugs known as the morning after pill or Plan B, could be put in place in some states.

The Nature Communications study said that the new drug for men — soluble adenylyl cyclase (sAC) inhibitor — may be more convenient and alleviate unwanted side effects that a chronic medication could have.

“Unlike these methods, on-demand contraception with a sAC inhibitor rendered male mice infertile within 30 minutes of a single dose of inhibitor, and fertility was fully restored the next day,” the researchers said.

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