Researchers Inch Closer to a Male Birth Control Pill

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Aside from condoms and a vasectomy, there aren’t any reliable methods of birth control for men. But researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Baylor College of Medicine report in Friday’s edition of the journal Cell that an experimental new drug may point the way to a male birth control pill.

The researchers tested a a small molecule they called JQ1. When they injected mice with JQ1, it reduced their sperm production to the point where the animals became infertile. But while the mice couldn’t sire offspring, JQ1 didn’t interfere with their sex drive — over an 18-month period on the drug, mice produced as much testosterone and mated as much as usual. What’s more, when animals stopped treatment, their fertility was restored in one or two months.

“These findings suggest that a reversible, oral male contraceptive may be possible,” said Dr. James Bradner of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, in Boston, in a statement.

(MORE: Could a Fertility Gene Discovery Lead to New Male Contraception?)

How JQ1 works: it’s small enough to cross the blood-testis barrier, so it can reach the cells that make sperm. JQ1 targets a protein called BRDT and inhibits it, thereby preventing sperm from maturing. The result is fewer and lower-quality sperm. Using an initial, lower dose of the drug, four of seven mice that received it were able to reproduce, but their litters were smaller than normal. When the dosage was increased, none of the mice were able to reproduce at all. When the drug was stopped and mice were able to reproduce again, their litters were no different in size, activity or behavior from those of control mice.

The molecule won’t be ready for human testing anytime soon, but the researchers are hopeful for similar results. “Humans do indeed have the BRDT gene, and human genetics suggests a similar role for BRDT in sperm production,” Bradner told HealthDay. “We therefore tested activity against the human BRDT protein and found that JQ1 is a highly potent inhibitor of human BRDT.”

A reversible non-hormonal contraceptive would likely be of much more interest to men than techniques that use hormones — which have wide-ranging and potentially long-term side effects — or other methods using ultrasound or gene-altering effects.

MORE: Male Contraception May Be a Reality Sooner than We Think

MORE: Why Laptop Computing May Not Be Great for Fertility

4 comments
LokHupBaFa
LokHupBaFa

 There is no evidence that men would be willing to take the pill, and since there are no consequences for them if they miss the pill or don't take it correctly, would a woman feel comfortable with it?

Karabis
Karabis

It's the myth of this kind of thinking that is holding research back. Men may not get pregnant, but states are becoming ever more aggressive about pursuing child support, so men definitely *do* have motivation for wanting control over their own reproductive destiny. Then there are the men who are in committed relationships whose partners can't take BC due to medical issues, so they would be motivated to take the male pill to protect their partners' health. And then there are the millions of children born either out of wedlock or into broken families where the relationship with the father is either hostile or non-existent, and those men as adults may want to take BC to prevent the possibility of creating a child who will grow up in the same situation. So I really think the argument that men won't take birth control because they don't want to bother with being responsible is both incorrect and somewhat insulting.

Besides, better birth control means fewer consequences with sex... which just plain means more sex. What guy is going to turn that down?

Sidescroller
Sidescroller

What? What do you mean there's no consequences? If I father a child, even if I don't have to carry it around for 9 months, I still have the knowledge and burden of either being a deadbeat dad or being a responsible parent. Besides, there's at least child support. Also, I'm not a douche, and I wouldn't ever have sex with somebody and abandon them if they got pregnant.

I'm extremely interested in this pill. A condom-free way to temporary birth control sounds revolutionary to me as a man. This comment seems to assume a lot.

Sidescroller
Sidescroller

Wait, what? What do you mean there's no evidence that men would be willing to take the pill? What do you mean there's no consequences? If I'm a douche and don't care who I get pregnant, then I wouldn't use birth control anyway. If I'm responsible and care about the people I'm in a relationship with, then this is a breakthrough.

I'll sign up for the trials!