On the horizon
Some of that research happens at Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, where biologist Robert Braun, associate research director for the lab, works with a team of eight scientists studying spermatogenesis. Their lines of inquiry include trying to suppress androgen in the testes, which affects fertility, and studying the path from stem cell to sperm cell to see how that process could be manipulated for contraceptive purposes.
Other male contraceptives on the horizon include:
RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance): It’s called Vaselgel in the United States — a non-toxic polymer is injected into the vas deferens (two ducts that transport sperm pre-ejaculation), killing sperm as they pass through. The procedure, an injection into the scrotum, is non-surgical and reversible, and the Indian version is in advanced clinical trials. “The US . . . is hoping to catch up quickly” on this front, Lissner says. “I think that’s actually the most promising because it’s long-term and because it’s so targeted.”
HORMONE COMBINATION Implants, gels, or shots that use progestin to block testosterone (which is needed to create sperm) plus a testosterone-replacement to ensure hormonal benefits are not lost. Mode of delivery and side effects are the major problems here. Amory suspects that hormonal implants “would be the first thing we see” in the United States.
"DRY ORGASM" This pill, in development in England, would do just what it says — induce certain muscle contractions in the male reproductive tract that would result in a normal orgasm, only without sperm. This method would also help reduce transmission of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. While more than 50 percent of men say they would consider a male birth-control option, no one’s asked them if they’d accept a dry-fire situation.
NON-HORMONAL INTERFERENCE WITH VITAMIN A, which is needed to generate sperm. “We’ve isolated an enzyme, specific to testes,” Amory says. “We’re trying to develop blockers for that.” This would be reversible and available in pill form, but early versions interact dangerously with even trace amounts of alcohol.
ULTRASOUND In 2010, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded an effort at the University of North Carolina to use ultrasound on the male reproductive organs, stopping sperm production for six months.
Put a ring in it
As these male options are further developed, female contraceptives continue to evolve. The biggest female birth control news out of the Future of Contraception conference is the advent of longer-lasting vaginal rings — news that will be popular in Maine, where “larger numbers of women are choosing the Nuva Ring,” according to Alison Bates, a women’s health nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. In fact, Bates reports that all longer-lasting options, including intrauterine contraception and birth-control shots, continue to rise in popularity.
According to Regine Sitruk-Ware, a reproductive endocrinologist and the executive director of research and development at the Population Council’s Center for Biomedical Research, the following rings could be hitting the market soon:
A ring that lasts for one year (three weeks in, one week out, for 13 menstrual cycles), offering the advantage of not needing to fill a prescription every month. Washing it between uses doesn’t change or deplete the diffusion of the hormones, Sitruk-Ware says.