Health & Wellbeing

Compound offers potential for male contraceptive pill

Compound offers potential for ...
Researchers have found a compound that could be used to create a contraceptive pill for men (Image: Cell)
Researchers have found a compound that could be used to create a contraceptive pill for men (Image: Cell)
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Researchers have found a compound that could be used to create a contraceptive pill for men (Image: Cell)
Researchers have found a compound that could be used to create a contraceptive pill for men (Image: Cell)

The approval of the combined oral contraceptive pill (or “the Pill”) in the 1960s ushered in a sexual revolution as women gained unprecedented control over their reproductive capabilities. But despite much research, the development of a male contraceptive pill has proven more elusive. Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Baylor College of Medicine have now discovered that a small molecule compound can produce reversible birth control in mice, thereby showing promise as a lead compound for the development of a reversible male contraceptive.

The compound, called JQ1, disrupts the process by which sperm develop to become mature sperm by penetrating the blood-testis boundary. This results in a decrease in the number and quality of sperm, which is reversed when JQ1 was discontinued. The team’s study found the compound didn’t affect testosterone production, mating behavior, or the health of offspring conceived after JQ1 use.

"Our findings demonstrate that, when given to rodents, this compound produces a rapid and reversible decrease in sperm count and mobility with profound effects on fertility," said Dana-Farber's James Bradner, MD, the paper's senior author.

JQ1, which is named after Jun Qi, PhD, the lead chemist in Bradner’s lab, was originally synthesized at Dana-Farber to block a cancer-causing gene called BRD4. It has proven effective in models of lung cancer and in several blood cancers including leukemia and multiple myeloma. A group at Columbia University led by Dr. Debra J. Wolgemuth (who is also working on developing a male contraceptive pill) then revealed that mice lacking in BRDT were infertile.

This prompted further investigation that revealed that JQ1 blocks the normal process by which sperm are made by binding to a pocket of bromodomain testis-specific protein (BRDT), which is involved in the chromatin remodeling process during the generation of sperm in the testis.

Using JQ1 supplied by Bradner, Martin Matzuk, MD, PhD, of the Baylor College of Medicine and his team injected mice with the compound in solution and found that mice that received JQ1 had lower sperm counts, and their sperm were less mobile than those of mice who had not received the molecule. This rendered the JQ1-treated mice infertile.

"These findings suggest that a reversible, oral male contraceptive may be possible," said Bradner, who is also on faculty at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute. "While we will be conducting more research to see if we can build on our current findings, JQ1 shows initial promise as a lead compound for male contraception."

The potential male contraceptive pill joins a number of recent developments, including injecting a non-toxic polymer (gel) above the scrotum to chemically incapacitate sperm as they go past, and using commercially-available ultrasound technology to reduce sperm counts.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Baylor College of Medicine researchers’ paper appears in the journal Cell.

Bradner explains the research in the video below.

Source: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Dana-Farber's Dr. James Bradner talks about a male contraceptive in the making

The human race needs this? More recreational sex without children, more women and men as sex objects rather than persons, more incurable STDs. Birth rates are well below replacement levels in most developed countries and are heading in that direction in the developing world also. Perhaps in just a few generations we'll achieve another choke point in the population, with only a few thousand individuals left to repopulate the earth after having lost the accumulated knowledge of the past many thousand years.
Dennis Learned
Lead compound? I thought lead was bad (RoHS and all that). Then, again, I guess it would be bad for the sperm, which is good.
It would be great if a male contraceptive pill could be developed. Then as long as you were taking your pill and got to fooling around she couldn’t claim that you were the “Father of her Child” or that she was pregnant by you. It would stop a lot of guys from getting trapped into a passionless marriage anyway.
S Michael
this will never see the light of day. To many political ramifications.