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Male contraceptive may be possible

BY EMILY MELVOLD | APRIL 07, 2009 7:30 AM

UI researchers studying male infertility genes have sparked the idea of males taking contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

UI sophomore Kevin Nash said that if the research develops into the production of a male contraceptive, men and women should share the responsibilities of birth control.

“It would be nice to put the decision into the hands of the individuals instead of only females or males,” he said. “It can be each party’s choice and responsibility.”

UI researchers recently released a three-year study in the online edition of the American Journal of Human Genetics detailing the discovery of a defective gene called CATSPER1. While researching deafness in Iranian families, the team found the abnormal gene that causes male infertility and could eventually be used to develop a male contraceptive.

Three main researchers — Richard Smith, Michael Hildebrand, and Matthew Avenarius (now a graduate student at the University of Michigan and a research assistant in Smith’s lab when the study was done) — produced the study, which cost an estimated $100,000 and was funded mostly by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

“We’ve got a lot of reaction to the study but didn’t expect to get so much,” said Hildebrand, the study’s co-lead author.

The team’s next steps are to study additional families for similar mutations, search for other genes that may involve infertility, and explore the possibility of using a drug to target CATSPER1 protein, which could lead to a male contraceptive.

“What it also means is that there is still a lot of work to be done,” Hildebrand said.

UI students said several factors — including price and side effects — could determine whether college-age males would use such a contraceptive.

“If it doesn’t protect against STDs, then I don’t think it will be used a lot because condoms protect against both unwanted pregnancy and STDs and are pretty cheap,” said UI senior Matt Moore.

UI sophomore Kurtis Hartsock, a pharmacy student, agreed price would play a big role in whether men decided to purchase the drug.

“I worked in a pharmacy, and I’ve seen females turn down birth control because of the cost, so I think men would do the same thing,” he said.

UI sophomore Tim Emery said he thinks men would avoid a contraceptive because of the feminine stigma associated with “the Pill.”

“I think it will take awhile to catch on, because guys would be skeptical because taking a pill is viewed as a ‘girl thing’ to do now,” he said.

While some have reservations about the idea of a male contraceptive, others said they would welcome it.

“It would definitely be nice to have a variety of choices for protection against something so shaky and uncertain like unwanted pregnancy,” Nash said.


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