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Is A Male Birth Control Pill In Our Future?


The days of female-only birth control pills may be numbered. Scientists at Columbia University Medical Center are getting closer to developing a nonsteroidal oral contraceptive for men after having success in achieving sterility in male mice.

New male birth control caused no side effects

Much of the research on male birth control methods has focused on hormonal approaches, which attempt to slow or stop production of sperm by interfering with some phase of the sperm growth cycle. The steroids being tested include testosterone, androgen/progestin, testosterone plus gonadotropin releasing hormone, and various androgen and progestin receptor modulators.

Columbia University researchers are working on what may be the first nonsteroidal oral contraceptive for men. The compound interferes with retinoic acid receptors (RARs), which have molecules that are metabolites of dietary vitamin A, and stops sperm production in mice.

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This nonsteroidal form of birth control has several advantages, including the apparent absence of side effects that are a problem with steroidal hormone-based approaches. Those adverse effects include loss of libido, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and benign prostatic hyperplasia, and varying efficacy depending on ethnicity.

Another advantage of the nonsteroidal approach is the return to normal fertility once the drug is terminated. Investigators paired treated male mice with female mice and noted the reappearance of male sterility. Although the new approach involves vitamin A, which is involved with light-sensitive receptors, the researchers reported the drug does not impact vision.

A male birth control pill will not be available to the public soon, however. Researchers must first make sure the compound is safe, effective, and reversible in humans when used for years. Two of the Columbia University Medical Center researchers, Drs. Sanny S.W. Chung, PhD, and Debra J. Wolgemuth, PhD, noted that “We hope that in the not so distant future, we may finally have more choices for people.”

Chung SSW et al. Endocrinology 2011; doi: 10.1210/en.2010-0941