A Birth Control Pill for Men? Researchers Say It May Soon Be Reality

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Columbia University researchers say they are honing in on the development of what may be the first non-steroidal oral contraceptive for men.The researchers found that low doses of a drug compound stopped sperm production in male mice with no adverse side effects.  Furthermore, normal fertility was restored soon after the researchers stopped administering the drug.The drug works by interfering with retinoic acid receptors (RARs), which deprives the body of vitamin A.  Scientists have long known that depriving an animal of vitamin A causes male sterility.Earlier research had found that manipulating the retinoid receptor pathway could interfere with spermatogenesis, a process necessary for sperm production.Previously, a company called Bristol Myers had been experimenting with the compound for the treatment of skin and inflammatory diseases.  They discontinued the project after finding that the drug was a “testicular toxin.”

“We were intrigued,” said Dr. Debra Wolgemuth, professor of genetics and development and of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, in a press release. “One company’s toxin may be another person’s contraceptive.”

Wolgemoth and her team found that a dose as little as 1.0mg/kg of body weight over a 4-week period was enough to induce reversible male sterility.

The drug has an advantage over steroidal hormone-based methods, the researchers say, because steroidal methods are often plagued with side-effects, including variability in efficacy, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diminished libido.

“We have seen no side effects, so far, and our mice have been mating quite happily,” said Dr. Wolgemuth.

An additional benefit of the compound is that it can be taken orally as a pill, according to researchers, which avoids the the injection process.

Further testing is needed to prove the compound is safe, effective and reversible even after years of use.

The research was published in the journal Endocrinology with funding from the National Institutes of Health.