New male Pill on way in DNA breakthrough
A NEW male contraceptive pill could be created after scientists in Scotland discovered a key reproductive gene.
Experts are also hopeful the breakthrough could also lead to new treatments for male infertility.
Researchers from Edinburgh University have found a key gene essential for sperm development. They hope the study will lead to the creation of new methods of male contraceptives that do not disrupt the production of hormones, something which often creates side effects including mood swings and acne.
The researchers have discovered the gene, Katnal1, is critical to enable sperm to mature in the testes. They now hope to find ways to regulate the gene to prevent sperm from maturing, making them ineffective.
Dr Lee Smith, reader in genetic endocrinology at the Medical Research Council Centre for Reproductive Health at the university, said: “The identification of a gene that controls sperm production in the way Katnal1 does is unique and a significant step forward in our understanding.
“If we can find a way to target this gene in men, we could potentially develop a male non-hormonal contraceptive.”
He said initial studies showed any drugs produced to control the gene would not have a long-term effect on a man’s ability to reproduce.
He said: “The important thing is that the effects of such a drug would be reversible because Katnal1 only affects sperm cells in the later stages of development, so it would not hinder his overall ability to reproduce.”
The research could also help in finding treatments for cases of male infertility, when malfunction of the Katnal1 gene hampers sperm development.
In trials the Edinburgh-based team found male mice, which were modified so they did not have the Katnal1 gene, were all found to be infertile.
Tests showed this was because the gene was vital to enable the sperm to develop and mature.
Dr Smith said: “Many cases of male infertility remain unexplained and as such Katnal1 is a good example of a previously unknown gene that when mutated causes male infertility.
“This study could help identify the causes underlying unexplained male infertility.”
The researchers found that Katnal1 was needed to regulate a structure, known as microtubules, which forms part of the cells that support and provide nutrients to developing sperm.
The breakdown and rebuilding of these microtubules, enable the sperm cells to mature and Katnal1 acts as the essential controller of this process.
The study, which was funded by the Medical Research Council, also revealed the possibility of introducing a DNA sequence that permanently blocked Katnal1 as a method of permanent sterility, which the team have dubbed “genetic vasectomy”.
The researchers said any treatments which could be developed on the back of their findings were at least five to ten years away.
The Family Planning Association last night welcomed the findings, saying: “This is an exciting development and we welcome as much research as possible into new ways for men to control their sexual health.”
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