Since the development of the contraceptive pill for women in 1960, scientists have so far failed to create the equivalent for men – until now.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have come a step closer to developing a male contraceptive, after discovering a vital gene that prevents sperm from maturing.
The gene in question, called Katnal1, controls the cells that support and provide nutrients to developing sperm, helping them to mature in the testes. Scientists believe that if this gene is blocked, it could stop mature sperm ready for fertilisation being released from the testes.
This isn’t the first time scientists have tried to crack male contraceptives.
However, although trials of the pill were a success, there were concerns about the hormonal side-effects, which included loss of sex drive, acne and mood swings.
Researchers claim this contraceptive approach wouldn’t have any long-term effects on a man’s sperm-making ability, as the testes would continue making sperm, but only ineffective, immature sperm would be released.
“The important thing is that the effects of such a drug would be reversible because Katnal1 only affects sperm cells in the later stages of development, so it would not hinder the early states of sperm production and the overall ability to produce sperm,” explained Dr Lee Smith from the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Reproductive Health, in the PloS Genetics journal.
“Although other research is being carried out into non-hormonal male contraceptives, identification of a gene that controls sperm production in the way Katnal1 does is a unique and significant step forward in our understanding of testis biology."
The Family Planning Association (FPA) welcomed the findings, saying: “This is an exciting development and we welcome as much research as possible into new ways for men to control their sexual health,” according to the Scotsman.