February 26, 2012 in Nation/World

Scientists working on ‘pill’ for men

Alan Bavley McClatchy
 
Other research

Also at KU, Leslie Heckert is looking for chemicals that can block the action of a protein essential to an early stage of sperm development. Gustavo Blanco already has a series of compounds that immobilize sperm so they can’t swim to an egg; he’s seeking about 100 volunteer sperm donors to supply him with the raw material for testing the compounds in the lab.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Women may say, “It’s about time.” Guys may have the same reaction.

After many overly optimistic predictions, a male version of the pill may truly be in sight. And a team at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, a nationally recognized center of research into male contraceptives, is working to be among the first to put a new generation of products on the market.

Joseph Tash, a reproductive biologist at KU, has spent a decade tinkering with a chemical compound called H2-gamendazole that keeps sperm from developing in the testes. Men taking a gamendazole “pill” would essentially be shooting blanks.

The expectation is that men on the KU pill would experience no change in their libido and, if they stopped taking it, would regain full fertility within a few weeks.

Tash’s work is part of a promising array of new birth control methods for men that are under development in laboratories or already being tested on volunteers. These contraceptives are arriving more than 50 years after the female birth control pill revolutionized relations between the sexes and gave women greater control over their lives.

Outdated attitudes that birth control was women’s work, along with the technical challenges – women release just one egg per month, but men produce 1,000 sperm per second – have slowed development of new male contraceptives. But recent investments in research appear to be paying off.

Men already are testing contraceptives based on hormones that are analogous to the contraceptive pills women take. Meanwhile, researchers such as Tash are working on compounds that target sperm production or activity directly without affecting men’s hormones.

Tash is confident enough about gamendazole that he’s getting ready to ask the Food and Drug Administration what additional studies he’ll need to do before he can start trying it on human subjects. “We have enough data now to actually go to the FDA,” he said.

He will have to meet a high standard of safety for a drug that healthy men would be taking regularly for a long time; FDA approval, if it goes that far, is perhaps a decade away. So far, though, the compound’s safety has checked out in rabbits, mice, rats and monkeys.


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