Male contraception anyone? While female contraception has been around since the 60s, having now become a staple in many women’s medicine cabinets, the idea of male contraception is still remote, largely done by surgical means but researchers in Edinburgh may just have discovered the gene that could lead to the development of a male contraception pill.
Researchers from the Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh, publishing their work in the journal, PLos Genetics, have found, thought their experimentation in mice, a gene that is ‘critical’ to the development of healthy sperm. The gene in question, Katnal1, helps in the development of the sperm in its final stages and if, according to the researchers, a drug were to be developed that would suspend this, a male contraceptive pill would in effect be created.
Speaking about it to the BBC, Dr Lee Smith said: "If we can find a way to target this gene in the testes, we could potentially develop a non-hormonal contraceptive.
"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 stages of sperm production and the overall ability to produce sperm.”
The researchers themselves were not looking for the Katnal1 per se. instead they were studying the causes of male infertility and by randomly altering the genes in the mice; they wished to observe which led to infertility which led them to the Katnal1. The Katnal1 contains proteins which completes the sperms development; without the body discards the undeveloped sperm cells. The researchers have cautioned though that to inhibit the Katnal1 would be “relatively difficult” there was "potential".
Commenting upon the discovery of the Katnal1 gene and the potential it holds, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, Dr Allan Pacey told the BBC that the discovery of such a drug was a “Holy Grail” and that there was "certainly a need" for such a drug on the market, “The key in developing a non-hormonal contraceptive for men is that the molecular target needs to be very specific for either sperm or other cells in the testicle which are involved in sperm production. If they are not, then such a contraceptive could have unwanted side effects on other cells and tissues in the body and may even be dangerous. The gene described by the research group in Edinburgh sounds like an exciting new possible target for a new male contraceptive, but it may also shed light on why some men are sub-fertile and why their sperm does not work properly."