Prof creates male birth control pill

Condoms are the most popular contraceptive on campus.

by Hailey Colwell

As University of Minnesota students reach for condoms to prevent pregnancy, one professor is on the verge of creating a male contraceptive similar to the female birth control pill.

The College of Pharmacy’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry head Gunda Georg is working with a team of scientists to develop Gamendazole, a drug that may give males an alternative to condoms and vasectomies.

The drug has shown effectiveness in tests on rats, rabbits and nonhuman primates, Georg said.

The research team will soon begin requesting approval from the Food and Drug Administration to test the drug in a clinical setting.

Georg said the drug will be a “reversible” alternative to permanent vasectomies because men will be able to take the pill to temporarily minimize fertility and can regain it if they stop taking it.

The drug would give people another option to plan pregnancy, she said.

Gamendazole faces a long road to the pharmaceutical market because it’s designed for healthy individuals, Georg said. Because of that, the pill is required to be completely free of side effects, like potential sperm damage, before being released onto the market.

“Usually when you develop a drug, it is for a disease, and certainly fertility is not a disease,” she said. “This drug has to be absolutely clean, and that’s a very high hurdle to take.”

Developing new male contraceptives has been historically slow because it’s much more difficult to block sperm than eggs, Georg said.

Every milliliter of semen produced has 15 to 200 million sperm, she said.

“That gives you an idea [of] how difficult that might be to control as opposed to controlling one egg.”

While there’s a perception that men will not want to use a contraceptive pill, Georg said, many men have responded to studies saying they would want to take it.

“I think that men are actually more willing to do this than a lot of people think,” she said.

Some University students said releasing a male birth control pill into the market could have a positive effect.

Mechanical engineering freshman Dan Sherman said men would probably take the contraceptive as another option to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

“It would make everything safer and better,” he said.

Another University student, Katie Hanson, said it would be more practical if both genders could take a pill.

“I think it makes sense for guys to take birth control,” she said.

Other students showed concern about how people would respond to a new male contraceptive after years of having only the female birth control pill available.

University student Tegan Martin said though she thinks male birth control pills are a good idea, she’s not sure if people will change their contraceptive habits.

“I don’t know how easily it will catch on,” she said.

Shane DeGroy, a student in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, said having another option to minimize accidental pregnancy would be helpful, but it would work best if both genders took responsibility for birth control.

“If a guy still thinks it’s the woman’s job to do it,” DeGroy said, “I’m not sure [men will use it].”

Condoms for now

While researchers continue developing the male birth control pill, University students turn to condoms as their main source of contraception.

Among sexually active University students, almost half reported using a condom the last time they had vaginal intercourse, according to Boynton Health Service’s 2010 College Student Health Survey report.

Condoms are the most common method used by University students to prevent pregnancy, followed by the birth control pill, according to the report.

“Sexual health is an important part of health care,” Student Health Advisory Committee member Lauren Beach said. “It’s important that we raise awareness over ways that people can protect themselves.”

Health and wellness junior Amy Whitburn said it’s important to educate students on sexual health care products because not every student comes to college aware of them.

“A lot of people come from high schools or places that they don’t have comprehensive sex [education], and in college people are starting new experiences,” Whitburn said. “If they haven’t had a condom demo or they haven’t have some sort of experience with sexual health … that can lead to a lot of issues.”

Whitburn works as a coordinator for Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education, a Boynton-sponsored group that works to inform students on sexual health.

During 2011-12, SHADE handed out more than 100,000 condoms to students on campus.

“The fact that it’s that popular of a program demonstrates that it’s an incredibly important part of public health outreach and services on campus,” Beach said.