Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.
Scientists think excessive population growth is a cause of scarcity and environmental degradation. A male pill could reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, which accounts for 40 percent of all pregnancies worldwide.
But, big drug companies long ago dropped out of the search for a male contraceptive pill which is able to chemically intercept millions of sperm before they reach a woman’s egg. Right now the chemical burden for contraception relies solely on the female. There’s not much activity in the male contraception field because an effective solution is available on the female side.
Presently, male contraception means a condom or a vasectomy. But researchers from Center for Drug Discovery at Baylor College of Medicine, USA are renewing the search for a better option—an easy-to-take pill that’s safe, fast-acting, and reversible.
The scientists began with lists of genes active in the testes for sperm production and motility and then created knockout mice that lack those genes. Using the gene-editing technology called CRISPR, in collaboration with Japanese scientists, they have so far made more than 75 of these “knockout” mice.
They allowed these mice to mate with normal (wild type) female mice, and if their female partners don’t get pregnant after three to six months, it means the gene might be a target for a contraceptive. Out of 2300 genes that are particularly active in the testes of mice, the researchers have identified 30 genes whose deletion makes the male infertile. Next the scientists are planning a novel screening approach to test whether any of about two billion chemicals can disable these genes in a test tube. Promising chemicals could then be fed to male mice to see if they cause infertility.
Female birth control pills use hormones to inhibit a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs. But hormones have side effects like weight gain, mood changes, and headaches. A trial of one male contraceptive hormone was stopped early in 2011 after one participant committed suicide and others reported depression. Moreover, some drug candidates have made animals permanently sterile which is not the goal of the research. The challenge is to prevent sperm being made without permanently sterilizing the individual.
As a better way to test drugs, Scientists at University of Georgia, USA are investigating yet another high-tech approach. They are turning human skin cells into stem cells that look and act like the spermatogonial cells in the testes. Testing drugs on such cells might provide more accurate leads than tests on mice.
The male pill would also have to start working quickly, a lot sooner than the female pill, which takes about a week to function. Scientists from University of Dundee, U.K. admitted that there are lots of challenges. Because, a women’s ovary usually release one mature egg each month, while a man makes millions of sperm every day. So, the male pill has to be made 100 percent effective and act instantaneously.