Scientists have finally created a contraceptive that doesn’t disrupt your hormones or cause nasty side effects. And it's for men, not women.
At the moment, there are only two types of contraception available to men – condoms and vasectomies – while many more options, from the pill to the coil, are targeted at women. In recent years, scientists have been working to address this inequality and create more contraceptives aimed at the male population.
Recently, scientists have come up with a few ideas, including a hormone-containing rub-on gel that’s still being trialed and a pill that's proven safe and effective but yet to hit the market. What’s exciting about the most recent creation, however, is that it does not alter hormone levels in any way. Instead, it directly stops sperm in their tracks.
Sperm are particularly good swimmers, using their strong tails to speedily propel themselves towards an expectant egg waiting to be fertilized. The new drug, described in PLOS One, disrupts this athletic ability.
"Simply put, the compound turns off the sperm's ability to swim, significantly limiting fertilization capabilities," said lead investigator Michael O'Rand in a statement. "This makes [the new drug] an ideal candidate for non-hormonal male contraception."
Hormonal changes are the culprit behind many side effects caused by contraception, such as spots, headaches, and depression, so this new option provides a perfect alternative. So far, it’s only been tested on monkeys, but with promising results.
Researchers led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill injected male macaque monkeys with a compound called EP055. This substance binds to sperm proteins, reducing sperm's ability to move and therefore swim. The team found that the monkeys’ sperm became much less motile about 30 hours after the injection, and no side effects were observed.
"At 18 days post-infusion, all macaques showed signs of complete recovery, suggesting that the EP055 compound is indeed reversible," said study co-investigator Mary Zelinski.
The drug was found to remain in the semen for up to 78 hours, which, according to the researchers, gives it a “potential contraceptive window of 24-48 hours following administration.”
As it’s not been tested on humans yet, the drug still has some way to go before it reaches the market. Still, it shows a great deal of promise for providing men with an effective form of contraception that comes without unwanted side effects.
As the team note in their study, the “data indicate that it has a strong potential to be a male contraceptive that would provide a reversible, short-lived pharmacological alternative to condoms or vasectomy."