You know how it’s totally unfair that women are the only ones who can take a pill to prevent pregnancy? Well, that’s about to change, because scientists have found a pill that could act as effective birth control for men.
And, lucky for guys, this pill would not mess with their hormones the way many birth control pills for women do. That being said, the process of preventing sperm from fertilizing an egg is a bit trickier than female birth control, which essentially just prevents ovulation. In sports terms, it’s like having to come up with an entire offensive line with which to take down the other team instead of just one goalie.
However, some very smart Japanese scientists at Osaka University think they’ve landed on a drug that can effectively render all sperm useless — and it’s an immunosuppressant. I know, it sounds a bit strange, and maybe even dangerous, but according to the researchers, the immunosuppressant drug specifically targets sperm, not the rest of the body. So you don’t need to worry that this pill will make your guy unusually susceptive to random illnesses.
Haruhiko Miyata and his research team used calcineurin inhibitors on mice to see how they would affect the males’ sperm. Calcineurin inhibitors, specifically cyclosporine A and FK506, have been proven to impact sperm motility and development. Over time, the researchers were able to zero in on the “sperm specific” protein calcineurin, and realized if they could suppress it enough, they could render the sperm ineffective.
In one experiment, they genetically engineered male mice to be missing the gene that creates the sperm protein calcineurin. In a second, they gave them the calcineurin inhibitors to see if they produced the same effect as the genetic altering. After both control group mice got with their female counterparts, absolutely no babies resulted from copulation. This was surprising to the scientists, because, despite the protein inhibition, some of the sperm did reach the females’ eggs. However, upon closer inspection, they discovered why the sperm weren’t actually making it inside the eggs. Simply put, the inhibitors messed up the midsections of the sperm, which made it impossible for them to break through the eggs’ outer shells.
The inhibitors, which are also given to people who receive new organs to prevent their bodies from rejecting them, made all these mice infertile. This was seen across the board after just four or five days of taking the inhibitors.
You might be asking yourself, “But what if I don’t want my guy’s sperm to be forever disabled?” Don’t worry — the effects are entirely reversible. The scientists found all their male mice test subjects had fully functioning sperm again after just 10 days off the drug.
“Considering these results in mice, sperm calcineurin may be a target for reversible and rapidly acting human male contraceptives,” the Japanese researchers wrote in their paper in Journal Science Express. Human males do have the same calcineurin protein that was being blocked in the mice, so using these immunosuppressant drugs as male birth control pills is totally plausible.
However, there are aspects of the human body that could change the drugs’ effect on human male sperm. The study would need to move forward with human subjects before anything conclusive could be said about the inhibitors’ overall effectiveness as a male birth control pill.
That being said, this discovery is still a huge step forward in the race to level the birth control playing field. If men can take a non-hormonal pill that has minimal side effects, it would definitely make many women’s lives a whole lot easier.