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article imageMale contraceptive rub-on gel trials to start in 2018

By Karen Graham     Dec 23, 2017 in Science
Government researchers in the U.S. are about to embark on a four-year study of a birth-control method for men, a topical gel that could prevent the production of sperm. And no, it is not put on the genitals.
Currently, the only birth control options available for men are condoms or a vasectomy. And needless to say, this is not a choice for some men. But there has been ongoing research into finding non-invasive options. One such option is a hormonal-gel that would reduce a man's sperm count when applied to the skin.
Researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development have come up with a gel that contains two synthetic hormones, testosterone and a form of progestin. Progestin blocks the testes from making enough testosterone to produce normal levels of sperm.
A sperm cell fertilizing an egg cell
A sperm cell fertilizing an egg cell
However, testosterone is needed to counteract the hormone imbalances the progestin causes but won't make the body produce sperm. This is necessary because, in the last major study on male contraception that took place in Europe from 2008 to 2012, participants received injections of hormones every two months. But the lack of testosterone gave men severe mood swings.
Another study in 2012 required men to apply two different gels to different parts of the body. This successfully saw the number of sperm in their semen drop to less than 1 million per milliliter – a concentration that's far enough below the normal 15 to 200 million sperm per milliliter to actually hamper fertility. But this was quite a hassle using two gels.
The new gel uses a progesterone analog
The researchers developed a progesterone analog called nestorone, that competes with the body's testosterone levels, reducing them in the testes just enough to prevent mature sperm from being made. The added boost of testosterone helps keep hormones balanced throughout the rest of the body.
KJ Mullins
The testing will involve 400 couples from the United States, UK, Kenya, Italy, Chile, and Sweden during the four-year clinical trial. At first, both female and male contraceptive methods will be used until the sperm count drops to less than 1 million per millimeter.
Then, the males will be supplied with a take-home pump bottle of the gel, The men will need to rub about half a teaspoon of it on their upper arms and shoulders every day. The gel dries within a minute. Its effectiveness lasts for about 7 hours. Another trial is currently underway to ensure any stray gel rubbing onto a partner isn't cause for alarm.
“It’s not a lot of effort. It’s just remembering to use it every day,” says Diana Blithe, program director for contraception development at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Oral contraceptives with Dial dispenser.
Oral contraceptives with Dial dispenser.
BetteDavisEyes / Wikipedia
"I am very confident that if men put the gel on every day and apply it correctly, it will be effective," Stephanie Page, principal investigator and a professor of medicine at the University of Washington told Emily Mullin at MIT Technology Review.
Basically, it is important in this study that the male rubs the gel on his body every day in order to achieve a low sperm count, effectively having contraception. In fact, not remembering to take a birth control pill every day at the same time is the primary cause of contraception failure in females.
And this leaves everyone with one question - Will men be willing to use a contraceptive gel that has to be applied every day? The researchers say there is no assurance the method will be embraced immediately, but they do think younger men will be interested in using the gel.
More about contraceptive gel, rubon, Testosterone, progesterone, everyday use
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