A team from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Californian company ZabBio have developed an intriguing new contraceptive. The birth control method is a film that is dissolved in the vagina and it is rich in monoclonal antibodies that can attack a particular protein found in sperm.
The approach is certainly astounding – but, as reported in the journal EBioMedicine, it has only been confirmed in the lab. That said, the results are certainly promising. The Human Contraception Antibody (HCA) appears to be safe and possesses potent sperm agglutination capacity (it basically made it clump up).
The topical method was able to stop sperm at a quite low concentration too. It was able to immobilize sperm within 15 seconds – again, this was conducted in vitro, but with real sperm from volunteers.
The antibodies reacted to a specific protein called CD52g which is abundantly found in sperm. Laboratory tests on tissue similar to vaginal tissue show no inflammation due to the use of HCA.
"HCA appears to be suitable for contraceptive use and could be administered vaginally in a dissolvable film for a woman-controlled, on-demand method birth control method," senior author Dr Deborah Anderson, Professor of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a statement.
Many contraceptive methods for people with vaginas have significant side effects, risks, and costs. A new approach that doesn’t have such issues might be a game-changer. We might know soon enough if HCA is such an approach. A Phase I clinical trial is currently undergoing.
"HCA could be used by women who do not use currently available contraception methods and may have a significant impact on global health," explained Anderson.
Like most birth-control methods aimed at over half of all humans, the HCA does not protect again sexually transmitted diseases. However, the research team envisions that this might change in the future. Currently, only condoms can prevent both pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. The team believes that the standard HCA can be combined with other types of antibodies that are capable of attacking the microorganisms that cause specific diseases. This multipurpose method could be truly revolutionary in terms of both family planning and sexual health.
According to the study authors, 40 percent of pregnancies worldwide are unintended, which can lead to strain on the maternal physical, mental, and economic wellbeing. The WHO estimates that 270 million women worldwide have an unmet need for contraception.