Saturday, December 25, 2010
A Male Birth Control Pill?
Professor Chaim Breitbart of Bar Ilan University has been studying the biochemistry of sperm cells for over 30 years. His research has led him to groundbreaking knowledge which he is trying to apply to making the first male birth control pill.
By jamming the biochemical machinery of sperm, an Israeli professor has created a new pill that could finally place the responsibility of birth control with men.
The female birth control pill, commonly referred to as 'The Pill,' is not 100 percent effective, and some women's bodies don't react well to the extra hormones. Now, finally, a new birth control option for men is in the works, which would allow partners to share the responsibility, and let guys be in control of whether or not there will be any surprises in the procreation department.
Prof. Haim Breitbart of Israel's Bar-Ilan University authored a breakthrough paper in 2006 describing how sperm survive in the uterus. Now the biochemist is taking those findings and using them against sperm. He's developed a number of novel compounds that have no affect on male sex drive, but succeed in impairing the reproductive ability of the sperm. If all goes according to his plan, a new male birth control pill could be on the market within the next five years, he tells ISRAEL21c.
So far, the new pill dubbed the Bright Pill (a play on Brietbart's name) has been tested on animal models in a pre-clinical setting, and has been found to work wonderfully on mice. "What we found is that by treating the mice with our molecule we can get sterility for a long period of time; in the lower dose, about one month, and in the higher dose we found three months of sterility.
"Later on the male mouse can become fertile. It's reversible," he promises.
Provided in pill form, but also tested as an injection, the male birth control solution was administered in two treatments over three days: One day on, one day off, one day on. In the larger dose group, it took about a week until the effects manifested themselves, but most importantly, the treatment does not appear to in any way affect the sex drive or the sexual behavior of the mice who received it.
"The mice behaved nicely, they ate and had sex"
"The mice behaved nicely," Breitbart reports, "they ate and had sex; they were laughing, and everything, so all I can say is that we couldn't see any behavioral side-effects - all their sex behavior was retained, which is a very important consideration for human men. A man who takes this pill could also be sexually active later on and have children."
Rather than undergo an irreversible vasectomy, a man could sterilize himself for short periods, suggests Breitbart - probably one to three months depending on the dose. And, unlike the female pill, the male pill wouldn't have to be taken every day.
Scientifically speaking, the effects of the male pill would be highly specific, meaning men would likely experience fewer side effects than do women who go on the pill. Careful not to reveal any of his trade secrets, Breitbart will divulge that the male pill is based on techniques in bioinformatics and microbiology and shows no sign of attacking any cells other than sperm cells.
Referring to the groundbreaking paper that he published in the journal Genes and Development, Breitbart says that the Bright Pill jams the sperm's biochemical machinery. Disproving textbook science, he showed in the seminal paper that mature sperm cells synthesize new proteins in the uterus where they reside for up to three days or longer until fertilization of the egg takes place.
"We thought that since sperm can survive for three days or even longer, that there is another hypothesis: The sperm should renew their proteins because in order to get energy they need new proteins," he tells ISRAEL21c.
In the mature sperm, messenger RNA (mRNA) is produced by DNA in the sperm's nucleus and it is this mRNA, which directs protein synthesis in the sperm, Breitbart's lab showed. In his breakthrough he describes how mitochondrial ribosomes are active in synthesizing nuclei-encoded mRNA proteins. This led to his realization that if he could stop protein synthesis in the sperm, they wouldn't manage to survive in the uterus.
The Jewish stamp of approval
"We thought we could use this method to develop a male contraceptive," Breitbart relates. Sperm are produced in the testes and then move to the epididymus, which is like a holding tank, and there can stay for a few days before encountering a female.
"If we can use a molecule which will inhibit the synthesis of certain proteins in sperm development, and it will stay in the sperm when it goes directly to the epididymus, we increase its chances for high efficiency. So far we know this works in mice," he says.
The Bright Pill would have to be taken a week in advance, which should encourage deliberate, planned, safer sex. And it should be well received by religiously observant Jews. According to Jewish law, castration of any animal - human or non-human - is forbidden; not to mention that 'spilling seed' or ejaculating outside the female body is not permitted.
Also, for Jewish women who are allergic to the pill, the Breitbart solution provides more freedom in family planning, says the professor.
The Bright Pill is being submitted for a patent through Bar-Ilan University's tech transfer company BIRAD, and Breitbart will continue his current studies for another year before moving on to primates. Working with his research associate Dr. Yael Gur, who is currently in the US, the two are seeking a $10 million investment to enable them to move on to the next stage of clinical advancement.