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Genetic Alterations to Mice Could Make Male Birth Control a Possibility
Male birth control has been a difficult area of drug discovery for some time, but researchers at Osaka University and the University of Tsukuba may have found a solution. In a recent study, they found that genetic alterations to male mice meant that their sperm did not develop normally and they were unable to impregnate other mice. This effect can also be created using drugs, opening up the possibility of a male contraceptive pill.
An enzyme called calcineurin plays a significant role in male fertility, and a sperm-specific version is produced by two genes. The researchers knocked out these two genes, suppressing production of the calcineurin enzyme, and monitored the effect on male mice.
The mice in the study demonstrated normal health, and a normal ability to have sex and ejaculate. However, they did not impregnate the female mice. When the semen was analysed under a high-speed camera, it became clear why: without the calcineurin protein, the sperm cells did not form correctly. They had rigid tails, so they could not swim properly, and they were unable to fertilise an egg.
Of course, changing genes in human males to affect sperm production is not a realistic option. The current methods of male contraception – vasectomy, condoms, or Vasalgel – are respectively permanent, unreliable, or still awaiting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. This part of the study opened the door for the second, where male mice were given drugs that block calcineurin production. When mice were given these drugs, they became infertile within four or five days. A week after the drug was stopped, the mice became fertile again.
There are already drugs that block calcineurin on the market; at the moment they are used to prevent rejection in donor organ recipients and treat rheumatoid arthritis. A version specifically geared towards sperm is not yet in existence for men; one will have to be created and put through preclinical and clinical trials.
The difficulty of getting a potentially useful drug like this through testing is greatly increased by the lack of rich data available in the preclinical stage. Issues like side effects are often not discovered until clinical trials, making the process wasteful and expensive. Systems like ActualHCA make it possible for researchers to do faster, more reliable tests in drug discovery by obtaining richer data earlier. With the right testing technology, a calcineurin suppressant for male contraceptive purposes may not be too far away.
To read the study by Osaka University and the University of Tsukuba, click here. To read the article in The Verge that covers the study, click here. For more information on ActualHCA, visit our product page or get in contact today.