There are a lot of contraceptive methods available to women, and the oral contraceptive is just one of them. For men, however, there are only three known methods used today – vasectomy, condom and the pull-out method. There has never been an oral pill for men, but scientists claim they are a step closer to formulating the world's first male contraceptive pill.
For years, scientists have been trying to find the correct formula for a male contraceptive pill. Researchers from the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy have been tweaking the chemicals used from previous attempts in the hopes of finding the successful combinations.
Researchers speculate that the form of contraception will cause temporary infertility among men without any short or long-term side effects. This will help a lot of women who are not allowed to take oral contraceptive pills specially those with high blood pressure, heart problems and are breastfeeding.
Lead researcher Dr. Gunda Georg points out that the prospect pill is safe even if taken for a long time. Its effect is also reversible in case the couple wanted to have children.
"That's a very high bar for bringing a male contraceptive to market," she says, speaking at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
One of the key ingredients studied as a potential male contraceptive is testosterone, which at certain doses could cause infertility among men.
"At those doses, it doesn't work for up to 20 percent of men, and it can cause side effects, including weight gain and a decrease in 'good' cholesterol," says Jillian Kyzer, a graduate student who is part of the study.
Tweaking Structure Of Chemicals
Some pharmaceutical companies have explored the possibility of producing the world's first male contraceptive pill. They have reached experimental stages but some errors and flaws have persisted, according to Dr. Georg.
One attempt by Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) involved a test compound that was effective in making men infertile but was not soluble, which makes users unable to take it orally. Though it was deemed effective and promising, it was considered inconvenient.
"No one wants to inject themselves with a needle once a day or once a week for most of their lives," said Kyzer.
The company's second attempt involved a soluble compound but the molecule was unable to selectively target the cells required for inducing temporary infertility. It interacts with retinoic acid receptor-α (RAR-α, a protein involved in male fertility and two other retinoic acid receptors not involved in male fertility. This means that the compound may cause severe side effects.
The team is tinkering with the compounds used by BMS in their two previous attempts. The goal of the team is to make a compound that is both soluble and can target specific receptors in the body without causing adverse effects. They created several substances that are similar in chemical structure to the BMS compounds.
Though the male contraceptive pill is not yet produced, the team has made some progress. At present, the team continues to refine the recipe to achieve the desired solubility, specificity and stability.
Photo : Iain Watson | Flickr