Do You Want Your Son or Husband Taking This?

Do you want your son or husband taking this?

The question refers to a new development in the search for a birth control pill for men which was described in a recent article in Nature magazine. Among the known side effects are temporary shrinkage of the testes.

My answer, for those who may be curious, is absolutely not. I do not want my son or husband taking this drug. I’m sure a lot of other people will feel the same way, including many men who won’t want to take it themselves.

My next question is why do we think it’s ok to dose young women with hormones and subject them to the insertion of painful contraceptive devices? Why are blood clots, high blood pressure, cramping, mood swings, weight gain, migraines, the possible permanent loss of fertility and liver spots acceptable risks for our young women?

Maybe we should give a little thought to both the dangers and the inherent misogyny in our current attitudes toward birth control.

This article, from the August 2012 issue of Nature magazine describe the development of the new male birth control pill I’m talking about. It says in part:

The discovery of a hormone-free way to immobilize
sperm in mice could lead to the development of oral
contraceptives for men.ROBERT
BROCKSMITH/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

 

Developing oral contraceptives for men has not gone as swiftly as researchers imagined in the early 1970s, who suggested at the time that a ‘male pill’ was not far off1. But today researchers report a new way to make male mice temporarily infertile.

Although the treatment is not ready for human use, the method avoids some of the pitfalls of earlier attempts, says Diana Blithe, programme director for contraceptive development at the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland, who was not involved in the study. Blithe is excited by the findings: “The field has a number of leads,” she says, “and this is among the most promising.”

The technique, which is reported today in the journal Cell, appears to have a much more specific action than previous methods: it impairs sperm production by blocking a protein called BRDT. This protein was singled out as a potential therapeutic target five years ago because it only occurs in the testes, where it is required for the division of sperm cells.

If the approach proves safe in humans, it would be an improvement over hormone-based methods of male contraception, which are not completely effective and cause side effects such as mood swings, acne and a loss of libido.

These typically employ progesterone and testosterone. The progesterone limits sperm production, but it also impairs other ‘male’ features, such a high muscle mass and the ability to get erections, which a limited amount of therapeutic testoterone then restores.

“The best thing is that we did not affect hormone levels,” says study author Martin Matzuk, a reproductive biologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Teeny testes

In their experiments, Matzuk and his colleagues injected a BRDT-blocking compound into male mice. This shrank the mice’s testes and reduced their sperm count, and any sperm they did produce were immobile.

When given high doses of the inhibitor, the mice continued to mate with females but sired no offspring. Within a few months of stopping the treatment, the male mice could successfully impregnate females once more.

Matzuk’s team have begun the task of using these findings in the design of a male pill, as they try to pin down more molecular details of how the potential therapy works.

Developing oral contraceptives for men has not gone as swiftly as researchers imagined in the early 1970s, who suggested at the time that a ‘male pill’ was not far off. But today researchers report a new way to make male mice temporarily infertile.

Although the treatment is not ready for human use, the method avoids some of the pitfalls of earlier attempts, says Diana Blithe, programme director for contraceptive development at the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland, who was not involved in the study. Blithe is excited by the findings: “The field has a number of leads,” she says, “and this is among the most promising.”  (Read more here.)