Congrats, Fellas! You're Closer To Getting Your Own Birth Control Pill
For decades, scientists have been searching for a birth control option for men other than condoms or vasectomies. There have even been some successful ones. They actually first created a safe and effective male birth control pill by accident in the 1950s, years before the female birth control pill was introduced, while trying to create a pill to treat parasitic worms. Unfortunately, the one major side effect it did have meant that it would never make it to market — men couldn't drink alcohol while taking it. At least not without getting unbelievably sick.
However, researchers from the University of Minnesota announced this week that a non-hormonal male birth control pill they developed is 99 percent effective in mice, with no observable side-effects at all.
This is a necessity, explained researcher Abdullah al Noman, because "targeting the male sex hormone leads to a lot of side effects such as weight gain, depression and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases." Because men aren't making a choice between side effects and actually getting pregnant themselves, he says, they "are less willing to take a birth control pill that has significant side effects."
The researchers also observed that 4 to 6 weeks after getting off the pill, the mice were able to father children again.
“Scientists have been trying for decades to develop an effective male oral contraceptive, but there are still no approved pills on the market,” says Md Abdullah Al Noman, who is presenting the work at the meeting. Most compounds currently undergoing clinical trials target the male sex hormone testosterone, which could lead to side effects such as weight gain, depression and increased low-density lipoprotein (known as LDL) cholesterol levels. “We wanted to develop a non-hormonal male contraceptive to avoid these side effects,” says Noman, a graduate student in the lab of Gunda Georg, Ph.D., at the University of Minnesota.
To develop their non-hormonal male contraceptive, the researchers targeted a protein called the retinoic acid receptor alpha (RAR-α). This protein is one of a family of three nuclear receptors that bind retinoic acid, a form of vitamin A that plays important roles in cell growth, differentiation (including sperm formation) and embryonic development. Knocking out the RAR-α gene in male mice makes them sterile, without any obvious side effects. Other scientists have developed an oral compound that inhibits all three members of the RAR family (RAR-α, -β and -γ) and causes reversible sterility in male mice, but Georg’s team and their reproductive biology collaborators wanted to find a drug that was specific for RAR-α and therefore less likely to cause side effects.
Interestingly, the original male birth control pill also worked by inhibiting vitamin A.
The pill could solve a lot of problems. For one, everyone should be able to control their reproductive futures, including men. Condoms aren't always as effective as we'd like them to be and a vasectomy is a pretty big deal. Something in between those two choices would certainly be a nice option to have.
For another, there are situations in which female birth control can't be tolerated for whatever reason. And for still another, it will give men who hate abortion a reason to shut the hell up about that — especially those who believe that female contraception is "abortion." There's no question that it would be extremely satisfying to be able to ask anti-choice men who do not currently want to have children if they are on the pill.
Coincidentally, Maury Povich announced his plans to retire just a few days ago. Pretty convenient, given that a male birth control pill could really put a dent in the number of "You are NOT the father!" shows he'd be able to do a week.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse