After decades of research, development of a male birth control may now be one step closer. My colleagues and I are working on a promising lead for a male birth control pill based on ouabain—a plant extract that African warriors and hunters traditionally used as a heart-stopping poison on their arrows.
…Today, men have just two choices when it comes to birth control: condoms or a vasectomy.
Together, these two methods account for just30 percent of contraception used, leaving the remaining 70 percent of contraceptive methods to women. An estimated 500,000 American men opt for a vasectomy each year—a small number given the need for contraception.
Vasectomy is an invasive procedure to do that’s also difficult and invasive to reverse.
….Researchers are exploring both hormonal and nonhormonal options for male birth control pills. Current hormonal agents under study involve the sex steroids progestins and testosterone.
While the male hormonal birth control pill option is in clinical human trials and likely closer to market, it has several potential side effects: In addition to potentially causing weight gain and changes in libido, it has the ability to lower the levels of good cholesterol (HDL-C) in men, which could negatively affect the heart health of users.
The long-term effects of using hormones for male oral contraception are unknown, and it will likely be decades before this information is available.
….For 10 years, my colleagues and I have been studying ouabain as a potential breakthrough in our quest for a male birth control pill. However, ouabain by itself isn’t an option as a contraceptive because of the risk of heart damage. So we set out to design ouabain analogs—versions of the molecule that are more likely to bind to the α4 protein in sperm than other subunits in heart tissue.