Scientists are hopeful that a male contraceptive pill could soon be on its way, after trials in mice identified a gene essential to sperm production.
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The gene, called Katnal1, is important at the end of the sperm-creating process and scientists believe blocking it could induce temporary infertility. The breakthrough came when a team of researchers at the Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh were conducting investigations into male infertility.
Crucially, blocking the gene would be a temporary measure and, as the pill would potentially be non-hormonal, there should be few side effects.
It’s not the first attempt made at a male contraceptive pill but options for men currently remain limited to condoms or a vasectomy. Experts have called a non-hormonal contraceptive pill for men the ‘Holy Grail’.
"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,” said Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield.
"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."