Most contraceptives are designed for people with uteruses, leaving few pregnancy prevention options for those with testes. Now, scientists are working to create a non-hormonal birth control pill for men, which has proven successful in lab trials on rodents. According to the researchers behind the contraceptive, human trials could start by the end of the year.
“Women have many choices for birth control, ranging from pills to patches to intrauterine devices, and partly as a result, they bear most of the burden of preventing pregnancy,” the researchers behind the work say in a press release. “But men’s birth control options—and, therefore, responsibilities—could soon be expanding."
The new pill created by a team at the University of Minnesota blocks proteins from binding to vitamin A, which is known to be crucial to fertility and virility in mammals, per Gizmodo’s Ed Cara. The drug was 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy in mice and has no apparent side effects, according to the research presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.
When mice were given the drug orally for just four weeks, they had such a steep drop in sperm count that they became sterile. When the team stopped dosing the animals, they noticed the drug’s effects reversed: the mice bounced back to normal virility in four to six weeks.
Depending on the result of human trials, the drug could soon be the first effective form of birth control for those with testes apart from condoms or surgery, Hannah Seo reports for Popular Science.
“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, a chemist at the University of Minnesota who was involved in the pill’s development, in a press release.
Because this contraceptive is non-hormonal, it’s likely to have fewer side effects. Earlier attempts at male birth control pills have largely worked by blocking testosterone, which can lead to depression, weight gain, and decreased libido. Even when scientists super-dosed the mice with the new drug, the rodents seemed to do just fine.
“When we went to even 100 times higher dose than the effective dose, the compound didn’t show any toxicity,” says Noman, reports Alex Wilkins for New Scientist.
Researchers emphasize that the drug’s success in rodents doesn’t guarantee the same result in humans, which is why scientists will be closely watching human clinical trials slated to begin later this year.
Medical professionals are hopeful that these recent breakthroughs in male birth control will allow people of all genders to take control of their reproductive health. Another male contraceptive, a gel rubbed on the shoulder daily, is currently in clinical trials.
“Our track record as a gender for assuming birth control responsibility is not stellar. Women overwhelmingly outnumber men for going through surgical sterilization procedures even though a female tubal ligation is far more invasive than a vasectomy,” says Jesse Mills, director of the Men’s Clinic at UCLA who was not involved in the research, to Healthline. “I am eager to see what the human trials show.”