New Cancer Pill Doubles As Male Birth Control

By Amir Khan on August 17, 2012 7:37 AM EDT

Pills
Researchers examining the effects of a new cancer drug made a surprising discovery -- it doubles as a male birth control pill. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Researchers examining the effects of a new cancer drug made a surprising discovery -- it doubles as a male birth control pill.  Tested in mice, the pill made the testes "forget" how to produce sperm, according to a new study, published in the journal Cell. And while that may sound scary, researchers said the mice became completely fertile once they stopped receiving the drug.

"These findings suggest that a reversible, oral male contraceptive may be possible," Dr. James Bradner, study author and researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told NBC News.

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While many drug companies have tried, no male birth control pill has made it to market. Female contraceptives target the hormone estrogen, which interferes in their reproductive cycle. However, targeting testosterone in men does not have the same effect and comes with a slew of side effects, including breast enlargement.

However, researchers said the new drug, which utilized a compound called JQ1, blocks sperm production with no side effects.

"It's a very exciting study, particularly from the standpoint that one of the large hurdles that has existed for a long time [is] ... the sperm-generating cells are behind the blood-testis barrier," Dr. Joseph Tash, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Male Contraceptive Research and Drug Development at the University of Kansas Medical Center, who was not involved in the study, told the Huffington Post. "To get a drug across that barrier has been a long, long challenge."

One of the most promising aspects of the pill is that it is completely irreversible, Bradner told the Huffington Post.

"Within one to two months [after discontinuing the drug], there was complete restoration in testicular size, sperm number, sperm motility and -- importantly -- fertility," he said. The litter size was normal, and there were no obvious, adverse symptoms in these animals."

Men have been clamoring for a birth a control pill they could take, as it would give them some control over when their partner gets pregnant, Bradner said.

"Men should be given additional opportunities to participate in safe contraception, both to allow them more control over their own fertility and to ease the health burden of unwanted pregnancies and contraception incurred by women," Bradner wrote in the study.

Still, researchers stressed that any male birth control pill is still a long ways away.

"It will take some years of research," Bradner told the Huffington Post. "It's just completely unpredictable. But we're working very hard on this problem."

 

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