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5 Promising Male Birth Control Methods

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It seems like a birth control method for men is always seven to 10 years off. Today, men still only have two real options: condoms or vasectomy. Meanwhile, women have 11. Having lots of choices for women is great, of course, but it also “forces women to assume most of the financial, health-related, and other burdens of contraception," writes Lisa Campo-Engelstein, assistant professor at the Alden March Bioethics Institute at the Albany Medical College, in the AMA’s Journal of Ethics. Men’s reproductive autonomy is diminished by ceding major responsibility for contraception to women.”

So what’s the holdup? Funding is the biggest problem. Drug companies see birth control as a problem that’s “solved,” even though current methods can be expensive, have uncomfortable (or, for some, unsafe) side effects, or aren’t very effective. Moreover, contraception is largely viewed as a women's issue, both culturally and medically. “For women, the FDA weighs the harms of pregnancy against the side effects of birth control,” Campo-Engelstein tells mental_floss. "But since there are no physical side effects to pregnancy for men, it’s not seen as a health issue."

Dr. John Hesla, a reproductive endocrinologist at Oregon Reproductive Medicine, tells mental_floss that in order to win FDA approval, a male contraceptive should be “…close to 100 percent effective, easy to administer, reversible, inexpensive, and have few or no side effects.”

That's a high bar. Here are five promising contenders.

1. VASALGEL: THE NON-SURGICAL, REVERSIBLE VASECTOMY

Vasalgel is like a vasectomy, except it's reversible and doesn’t involve surgery. Instead of cutting the vas deferens (the traditional surgical option), a polymer gel that blocks sperm (but not ejaculate) is injected into the same space. When and if a man wants to remove the gel, another injection dissolves it. It takes 3 to 5 days to become effective in preventing pregnancy after the initial injections, but the reversal process takes a bit longer—up to four months. A similar contraceptive called RISUG is currently in advanced clinical trials (Phase III) in India, and some men there have been using it for 15 years, but Vasalgel has so far only been tested—successfully—on rabbits in the U.S. Its development is currently being funded via crowdsourcing through the Parsemus Foundation. The company aims to make enough money to stay afloat “with affordable pricing and wide availability as its mandate,” and aims to make Vasalgel commercially available by 2017. You can watch a video from Viceon Vasalgel above.

2. DRY-ORGASM PILL: NEAT FREAKS REJOICE

The dry-orgasm pill (sometimes known as the “clean-sheets pill”) is based on a now-abandoned blood-pressure medication. It’s a fast-acting, hormone-free pill that temporarily shuts off the muscles that propel semen, but doesn’t inhibit any other part of the sex act, including orgasm. Drug companies are wary of a pill that results in a lack of ejaculate—they figure men wouldn’t like it—but it could be a tool in the anti-AIDS arsenal, since seminal fluid is a carrier of the virus. Pilot studies on animals have show the drug’s effectiveness, but more studies are needed. The doctors researching it at King’s College and University College London are seeking funds to do so.

3. HORMONAL GELS: TEMPORARY BUT EFFECTIVE

A combination of testosterone/progestin gels that are rubbed into the skin have been found to inhibit sperm production (but without affecting sex drive, ejaculation, or muscle mass). Sperm counts return to normal after use stops. This and other hormonal gels are in Phase II trials, according to the Population Council. But topical treatments may not be ideal: “Hormonal gels can be problematic,” says Campo-Engelstein, “in that you have to keep it away from [one's] partner and kids,” who shouldn’t be exposed to the hormones.   

4. GANDARUSA: INDONESIA'S PLANT-BASED SOLUTION

Gandarusa is derived from a plant (Justicia gendarussa) indigenous to Indonesia. Native people there had originally used it as an herbal remedy for stress, but noticed that it seemed to have contraceptive effects in men. It has been studied in Indonesia since 1985 and is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials there. The compound, which is ingested as a daily pill, is thought to disable the ability of sperm to penetrate the egg, but doesn’t have other reported side effects. Prior human trials have seen only one pregnancy among 300 men tested. Completely new trials would have to be run in the U.S. for it to become available here. You can see a video about Gandarusa above.

5. MENT: An Implant for the Guys

User-independent contraceptives like vasectomy (or IUDs for women), which don’t require daily thought or regular attention, are ideal, says Campo-Engelstein—especially since men aren’t used to regularly seeing doctors for their reproductive health care, as women are required to. (“It’s hard just to get men in for regular physicals,” she notes.) MENT, developed by researchers at the Population Council, is, like Vasalgel, another “in and done” method of male contraception. This one-year implant relies on a synthetic testosterone-like compound to inhibit sperm cell development without impairing libido. According to the Population Council, a small, one-year study of 11 men found that eight, who had four implants, had zero sperm count—an effect that lasted in many subjects for months, until the implants were removed.

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MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

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More Studies See Links Between Alzheimer's and Herpes
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Although it was discovered in 1906, Alzheimer’s disease didn’t receive significant research attention until the 1970s. In 1984, scientists identified the plaque-like buildup of amyloid beta proteins in brain tissue that causes nerve damage and can lead to symptoms like memory loss, personality changes, and physical debility.

Now, researchers are learning why amyloid beta tends to collect in brain tissue like barnacles on a ship. It might not be rallying expressly to cause damage, but to protect the brain from another invader: the herpes simplex virus.

As The Atlantic recently noted, a number of studies have strengthened the notion that amyloid beta activity is working in response to herpes, the virus that travels along nerve pathways and typically causes cold sores around the mouth (HSV-1) or genitals (HSV-2). In a study involving mice, those engineered to produce more amyloid beta were more resistant to the herpes virus than those who were not.

But when too much amyloid beta is produced to combat the virus, the proteins can affect the brain’s neurons. And while herpes tends to target specific pathways in the body that result in external sores, it’s possible that the virus might act differently in an older population that is susceptible to more widespread infection. Roughly half of adults under age 50 in the U.S. are infected with HSV-1 and 12 percent with HSV-2, which suggests that a large swath of the population could be vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease. Two other strains of the virus, HHV-6A and HHV-7, have also been found to be more common in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients than in the general population.

More research will be needed to further understand the possible relationship between the two. If more findings support the theory, then it’s possible that antiviral drugs or vaccines targeting herpes might also reduce the chances of amyloid beta buildup.

[h/t Atlantic]

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