Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have identified a gene involved in the production of healthy sperm which may be a potential target for a male contraceptive pill.
By altering the genetic code in mice, the researchers were able to identify a gene called Katnal1, which caused the mice to become infertile once it had been mutated. Katnal1 helps to develop a protein which is important for the formation of sperm, without it, the sperm is discarded.
The researchers believe that a new drug could be developed which would interrupt the function of the Katnal1 gene and act as a contraceptive in men. The drug would have to be proven to cause no lasting damage and the effect would also need to be reversible.
Male contraception is currently limited and largely reliant on condoms or a vasectomy. Experts point out that there is a need for a non-hormonal option and the search for a new contraceptive has been ongoing for some time.
An andrology lecturer from the University of Sheffield welcomed the findings as an exciting new possible target for a male contraceptive. They said: “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. 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.”