For decades, women have been largely responsible for contraception thanks to the pill, but a male equivalent has long escaped scientists. Now, a new breakthrough could lead to a safe, effective and reversible male birth control pill, as tests have shown that a compound from traditional Chinese medicine makes mice and monkeys temporarily sterile.
The compound in question is called triptonide, which is extracted from a Chinese herb known as T. wilfordii Hook F. Traditionally the herb has been used to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, but since the 1980s it has been reported that men taking the supplement for several months have shown infertility. Of course, that’s an unfortunate side effect of treating arthritis, but it’s exactly what you need in a male contraceptive.
For the new study, the researchers looked at how effective it could be in this role. The team looked at 10 compounds from this herb and selected triptonide as the most ideal contraceptive candidate.
In animal studies, the team found that a single daily oral dose rendered male mice sterile within three to four weeks and monkeys within five to six weeks. The compound appears to work by deforming almost 100 percent of the test animals’ sperm so that they can no longer swim forward and throwing an effective wrench on their way to the egg.
“Thanks to decades of basic research that inspired us to come up with the idea that a compound that would target a protein critical to the final steps of sperm assembly would result in the production of non-functioning sperm without the testicular cells becoming severely depleted “says Dr. Wei Yan, lead author of the study. “We are very pleased that the new idea has worked and that this compound appears to be an ideal contraceptive for men.”
The team says Triptonid ticks the right boxes. Not only is it effective and easy to take as a pill, it’s also non-hormonal, so it shouldn’t lead to unwanted changes in mood or behavior. No toxic side effects have been noted either, and perhaps most importantly, the process is completely reversible – if treatment is stopped, fertility will return within four to six weeks.
Triptonide is nowhere near the only male contraceptive in development. Many other compounds that interfere with sperm development or movement have been studied, with some showing promise in human clinical trials. Other methods include ultrasound pulses that kill sperm, gel injections that block their release in the long term, or self-applied gels that have the bonus of increasing libido.
The team in the new study hopes to begin clinical trials of triptonide in humans soon.
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Source: The Lundquist Institute