Birth control for men?

Nickalas Tabbert

And you thought birth control was only for women.

A gene essential for the production of sperm has been discovered by researchers at the University of Edinburgh. 

The gene, Katnal1, enables sperm to mature in the testes.  Regulating the gene with a pill could stall sperm production, CBS News reported. 

“If we can find a way to target this gene in the testes, we could potentially develop a non-hormonal contraceptive,” said Dr. Lee Smith, the study’s lead author and a reader in the department of genetic endocrinology at the University of Edinburgh.

Non-hormonal is important, the researchers said, because some conventional male contraceptives that rely on disrupting production of the male hormone testosterone can cause side effects such as mood swings, acne and irritability.  The new treatment would mean men could prevent pregnancy without condoms or a vasectomy.

Currently, there are limited options for male pharmaceutical contraception, including testosterone injections or testosterone plus progestin injections, which are used to trick the brain into thinking the testes have produced enough testosterone, so sperm production shuts down.

The gene’s discovery not only paves the way for a male contraceptive pill, but could also aid in better understanding cases of male infertility, Fox News said.

Dr. Allen Pacey, a senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield in the U.K., said that a non-hormonal contraceptive for men has been the “Holy Grail” of research for years, according to BBC News.

“The new 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,” Pacey said.

Comparing DNA sequences of infertile men against gene data from studies such as this will help clinicians identify the causes underlying unexplained male infertility, Smith said.

“If a genetic fault can be traced to a problem within the supporting cells of the testes rather than the sperm cells then it could be possible to use a gene-therapy approach to replace the faulty copy of the gene and restore fertility,” he said.