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Male birth control pill showing promise as trials yield positive results

The male pill could be on the horizon after early trials showed a once-daily tablet was safe and appeared to work, according to researchers. This pill will relieve the pressure on women, who currently bear the responsibility of birth control

Scientists have announced that a male contraceptive pill has been developed that is effective, safe and does not harm sex drive. This medical leap was made when the drug was successfully tested for the first time on 83 men for a month.

In the past, efforts to create a once-daily pill similar to the mainstream female contraceptive pill have stalled because men metabolise and rid their body of the delivered hormones too quickly. This new pill is known by the chemical name dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU. Like most contraceptive pills for women, it contains a combination of hormones, i.e. an androgen, such as testosterone, and a progestin.

“DMAU is a major step forward in the development of a once-daily ‘male pill’,” said Stephanie Page, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, US, and the senior investigator on the study.

Different doses of the pill and different formulations were tested at university medical centres in Washington state and California. Of the 100 volunteers aged 18-50, 83 completed the month-long study, including giving blood samples for hormone and cholesterol testing at the beginning and end.

“These promising results are unprecedented in the development of a prototype male pill,” Page said. “Longer-term studies are currently under way to confirm that DMAU taken every day blocks sperm production.”

Read: Male Pill: Is it time for guys to take on the burden of birth control?

Temporary male contraception has relied on condoms alone, with the main hopes for future contraceptive developments resting on a long-acting injection or topical gel, both of which are also under development. However, men who want a reversible form of contraception have said in surveys that they would prefer a pill to injections or gels.

Details of the other contraception options for men are:

1. Male contraceptive gel: This is another hormonal but non-surgical option. The gel is rubbed into the upper arms and shoulders every day, enabling two synthetic hormones, testosterone and a form of progestin, to enter the user’s bloodstream.
2. Contraceptive implant: Tiny rods are implanted under the skin of a patient’s arm to deliver etonogestrel, a form of progestogen commonly found in the female birth control pill, to block sperm production. This contraceptive is not ideal as participants have to get testosterone replacement therapy injections every four to six weeks over the course of a year to help maintain their sex drive and their male characteristics
3. Unisex pill: This pill is made up of a natural compound that is also found in grapes and mangos. If taken within five hours after unprotected sex, the chemical, lupeol, works by stopping the sperm’s ‘power kick’, which is how sperm forcefully propels itself towards and into the egg. It is, however, highly under-developed

Read: Are we ready for the male pill?

The male contraceptive pill has long been considered the unicorn of reproductive healthcare. In the time it has taken to develop a male hormonal pill, attitudes to contraception have changed vastly. Women now also incorporate apps to help them track their cycle and manage their birth control. Some even prefer condoms over hormonal options or implants because of the effects that hormones have on the body. It therefore appears that the future of reproductive health is part digital, part hi-tech latex, but not largely hormonal.

The future of reproductive health is part digital, part hi-tech latex, but not largely hormonal.

This raises the question: Could this much sought-after solution be obsolete before it is even available?

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