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Birth control: It's no longer a female thing

Pregnancy

The arrival of the oral contraceptive Pill in the Sixties revolutionised birth control, but it could soon be a thing of the past as scientists move closer to developing high-tech versions of contraception for both sexes.

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File photo: The arrival of the oral contraceptive Pill in the Sixties revolutionised birth control.

As the Mail reported recently, one option to replace the "snip" may be an innovative blob of gel. Under a local anaesthetic, Vasalgel is injected into the same tubes (the vas deferens) that are sealed in a vasectomy. It forms a barrier to stop sperm swimming to the penis.

It’s easily reversible — you’d just need an injection of a chemical to dissolve it.

Here, we look at other advances set to transform birth control.

FOR HIM

‘MALE PILL’ BLOOD PRESSURE DRUG

The holy grail of contraceptive research, the male pill, has so far proved disappointingly elusive.

One reason, scientists say, is that much of the focus is on developing drugs that rely on hormones — such as testosterone. While effective at stopping sperm production, side-effects such as mood swings, reduced sex drive, acne and blood clots have hampered progress.

One of the most promising non-hormonal alternatives is a pill called nifedipine. Scientists found that men taking the blood pressure drug were more likely to be sterile while on it.

Nifedipine appears to switch off sperm’s swimming ability — stopping it from reaching and fertilising an egg. Scientists from Harvard University are testing whether drugs such as nifedipine could be developed as the first male pill. This could be available in five years.

Allan Pacey, a professor of andrology at Sheffield University, says: "I don’t think there will ever be a hormone-based pill for men because of the side-effects.

"But a drug that could control sperm without using hormones and is reversible once you stop taking it could succeed."

The SPERM SWITCH

What if birth control was as simple as turning off a light? This is the promise of the Bimek SLV, a device that is surgically inserted into the vas deferens.

It has a hollow channel with a valve inside. In the up position, the valve diverts the flow of sperm back to the testicles, where it’s reabsorbed. In the on position, the sperm is ejaculated as normal.

Because the vas deferens are close to the outside of the scrotum, the device can be switched on and off by pressing the device through the skin.

The procedure to insert it is expected to last 30 minutes. Its inventor, German engineer Clemens Bimek, is believed to be the only recipient so far. Trials on 25 men, due to begin last year, have been delayed.

GEL TO REPLACE THE SNIP

Another gel alternative to a vasectomy has been under development in India for more than ten years. RISUG (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance) works like Vasalgel, but also kills sperm when they come into contact with it.

Studies suggest gel plugs can leak when the vas deferens stretches around them.

In a study of 25 men who had the RISUG gel jab, 21 had zero sperm count after two months, reported the journal Contraception in 2003.

FOR HER

MORNING AFTER CREAM

Every year, thousands of women rely on the morning after Pill. It can be taken up to 72 hours after sex, but can have nasty side-effects, including sickness, dizziness, tender breasts and abdominal pain.

Viramal is working on a morning after cream that avoids these side-effects and allows higher quantities of the drug to be absorbed through the skin and the mucous membranes inside the vagina.

REMOTE CONTROL IMPLANT

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on an implant that can be turned on and off by remote control.

This means women who decide they want a baby can switch off the gadget themselves, rather than having to visit a doctor. Once they have given birth, the device can be switched on again.

The new implant, which is smaller than a stamp, releases small doses of the hormonal contraceptive drug Levonelle.

The implant generates a small electric charge that slowly melts the seal holding the drug in the reservoir. The remote control can stop it by switching off the instructions that control the release of the drug. It could be available in three years.

SUPPOSITORY MADE OF CURRY SPICE

While it doesn’t sound high-tech, a vaginal suppository made from curry spice could be a contraceptive.

Several studies have found curcumin — which gives turmeric its distinct yellow colour — is an excellent spermicide.

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