Tag Archives: Contraceptive

Galaxy cocktail before and after heating. Credit: Xiaolei Wang.

Colorful layered cocktail inspires new male contraceptive

Galaxy cocktail before and after heating. Credit: Xiaolei Wang.

Galaxy cocktail before and after heating. Credit: Xiaolei Wang.

Most birth control methods are geared towards women, whether it’s a hormonal contraceptive such as “the pill” or more invasive methods like implants or intrauterine devices. For males, there are basically really only two vetted forms of contraception: condoms and vasectomy. Condoms are effective over the short-term, but they can lead to unwanted pregnancies when they break or are handled improperly. Vasectomies are effective over the long-term, however, they’re not always reversible. This is why research groups are developing and testing all sorts of new methods.

The most recent notable attempt at a male contraceptive comes from China — and it was inspired by an enchanting colored cocktail. Bartenders prepare the Galaxy by layering various types of liquids, which become a homogenized solution only when stirred or heated.

The team of researchers at Nanchang University led by Xiaolei Wang used a similar approach and injected separate layers of substances in order to block the vas deferens — the duct that carries sperm from the testicles to the urethra. When the materials were injected into male rats, pregnancies were avoided for more than two months. At the end of this period, the researchers shined a near-infrared lamp on the rats for a few minutes, which caused the layers to mix and dissolve. The animals then produced offspring when they copulated, the authors reported in the journal ACS Nano.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”The galaxy cocktail” footer=””]Bottom & Top Layer:
1 oz. (30ml) Tequila
3/4 oz. (22ml) Grenadine
3/4 oz. (22ml) Blue Curaçao
1 oz. (30ml) Lemonade

Middle Layer:
3/4 oz. (22ml) Blue Curaçao
3/4 oz. (22ml) Peach Schnapps
1/2 oz. (15ml) Vodka
1 oz. (30ml) Lemonade

Drink responsibly.[/panel]

Before anyone gets too excited, this is just a pilot experiment which will require further testing for safety. After all, the concoction doesn’t sound particularly risk-free: a hydrogel that physically blocks sperm; gold nanoparticles; ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), a chemical that breaks down the hydrogel and also kills sperm; and a final layer of gold nanoparticles.

Elsewhere, other researchers are trialing oral and rub-on gel contraceptives for men that lower sperm count by preventing the testes from producing enough testosterone

That new contraceptive app might not work as well as expected

Remember the birth control app developed by Elina Berglund, a former Large Hadron Collider physicist? Well, a Swedish hospital has lodged a complaint against her startup company, after the app reportedly caused 37 unwanted pregnancies.

Image credits: Natural Cycles.

The idea behind Natural Cycles was pretty straightforward, and it seemed effective. Woman fertility is driven by the menstrual cycle. When women ovulate, this brings forth a series of physiological changes, including a temperature change. The user would take measurements with a highly accurate thermometer and monitor bodily temperature. Then, using statistical methods, the app would estimate a woman’s fertility based on variations in her daily temperature. It would turn green when it’s OK to have sex, and red when sex was a no-no (when the woman is fertile).

It seemed to work good enough. In a clinical study which included 4,000 women, Natural Cycles scored an accuracy of 93 percent — not perfect, but comparable, to the condom and oral contraceptives. The birth control app received EU approval and right now, about 500,000 women are using it. But not everything went according to plan.

In a study carried out by the Södersjukhuset hospital in Sweden, out of 600 women who sought abortions in late 2017, 37 of them were using the Natural Cycles app. In other words, the app caused at least 37 unwanted pregnancies.

“We have a duty to report all side effects, such as pregnancies, to the Medical Products Agency,” midwife Carina Montin told Siren news agency.

The company went on the defensive, saying that this is only natural. No birth control method is perfect, they rightly argued, and as more and more women rely on Natural Cycles, more “accidents” are set to happen.

“An unwanted pregnancy is, of course, very unfortunate and we deeply care every time one of our users becomes pregnant unplanned,” the company said. “As our user base increases, so will the number of unplanned pregnancies coming from Natural Cycles users. This is an arithmetic truth applicable to all contraceptive methods.”

“To have 37 unwanted pregnancies out of the 668 mentioned in this study at Södersjukhuset means that 5,5 per cent of women who stated they used Natural Cycles also had an unwanted pregnancy. This is in line with what we communicate as the risk of unwanted pregnancy with typical use, and which is comparable to other types of contraception.”

But this is certainly a significant setback. At this point, it’s unclear if the 37 unwanted pregnancies fit with the 93% accuracy, but Natural Cycles will probably want to sort this out as soon as possible. The company is currently seeking approval from the FDA, and this might drastically jeopardize their chances.

Still, the problem of contraceptives remains pressing. Reliable contraceptive methods are few and far between, often coming with severe side effects. They also focus almost exclusively on women (except for the condom, of course). That might change next year, when a male contraceptive rub-on gel starts clinical trials.

UPDATE: A representative from Natural News has informed us that the Medical Products Agency (MPA) has closed all individual reports related to unplanned pregnancies concluding that there are no implications on behalf of Natural Cycles. In the meantime, Natural Cycles continues its own investigation.

“The Medical Products Agency has decided that all reports concerning Natural Cycles will be transitioned to trend reporting, in order to continuously monitor and report any unintentional pregnancies given the spread of the popular contraception app. Natural Cycles welcomes further data from the public to strengthen our clinical studies and aftermarket follow-up, why our open case at the Medical Products Agency is important to us. 

Natural Cycles has continuous follow-up of its users and has performed clinical studies of the app. We continuously evaluate these data and communicate an efficiency of 93% in typical use. No reports from the public have so far provided any indication of being higher than our own data.

Moving forward, the MPA continues its investigation by transitioning to trend reporting, where Natural Cycles will share data with the MPA in order to ensure that the number of unintended pregnancies remain within expectations given the popularity and effectiveness of the app.”

Condomless, reversible male contraceptive treatment shows its worth in rhesus monkey trial

Recent success in a rhesus monkey trial might propel a new type of reversible, condom-free male contraceptive closer to market.

Image credits Astryd_MAD / Pixabay.

We have sex for many reasons — mainly because it’s awesome. But for the most part, the biological incentive, that of procreation, isn’t one of them. Coming up with effective contraceptives that don’t take away from the act’s enjoyment can thus have a huge impact on the quality of life for countless people. A new male contraceptive treatment shows great promise in this regard. It has shown its effectiveness in a new trial, successfully blocking reproduction in a group of rhesus monkeys for more than a year.

Known as Vasalgel, the treatment works by blocking the vas deferens — the tubes that sperm travels down through on its merry way. It forms a flexible, spongy, hydrogel material which allows fluids to pass but holds back sperm cells like a net. In theory, this will allow males to ejaculate but eliminates the risk of unwanted pregnancies altogether.

It’s also very simple to administer — all you need to do is get one injection with long lasting effects. Animal studies so far have also shown that the effects are fully reversible.

Monkey business

The trial took place with 16 male adult rhesus monkeys who received Vasalgel injections. They were then housed for a full breeding season with three to nine fertile females. This was done in a free-living environment to ensure a free, unrestricted interaction between the sexes. Seven of the males were housed with the females for up to two years.

During this time, none of the group’s couplings resulted in pregnancy. The monkeys didn’t show any complications or adverse reactions to the treatment. Based on this trial and previous results from rabbit trials, non-profit Parsemus Foundation is now preparing for the first human trials of the treatment. The company said last year that it hopes to have the treatment commercially available by 2018 with an international pricing structure to ensure that men the world over can afford the contraceptive.

It’s an ambitious goal but with the recent success, it probably still holds strong.

“Contraceptive development is a hugely expensive project,” said Parsemus executive director Elaine Lissner last year.

“But this is not just another early-stage lead; we’re so close on this one. It’s time to finish the job we’ve started.”

Vasalgel was inspired by the work on a polymer contraceptive called RISUG, which is in advanced clinical trials in India; some of the men have been using RISUG for more than 15 years. But right now, only local men near the study sites in India are eligible for the trials, and formal reversibility studies have only been done in animals, not men.

If you’re a guy, you’re pretty limited in the range of contraceptives you can use. Despite huge interest from pharmaceutical companies, this market has remained impressively unchanged in the last century. There are several projects in the works — but most rely on chemical or hormonal regulation of sperm production and still come with a wide range of side effects. So the only established contraceptives are condoms, and vasectomies. The first one isn’t guaranteed to work, the CDC estimating a failure rate of 12%. Vasectomies, on the other hand, are very difficult to revert, which understandably puts a lot of people off.

Vasalgel could make a welcomed addition to the market. By physically blocking sperm, it works similar to a condom. However, you don’t have to keep one handy at all times or put anything on before sex. You also don’t have to unpack and risk damaging it, improving ease of use and reliability. We don’t know exactly how long the gel will last in human users, but that’s something Parsemus has to find out in human trials.

Another huge advantage is that the procedure is reversible. According to Parsemus, the rabbit trials have shown that after Vasalgel was flushed from the critters’ vas deferens, sperm production returned to normal. This removes one of the biggest gripes we have with vasectomies — their permanence.

There still is a lot of work to be done before Vasalgel will come to market, however. The rhesus monkey trial was limited in scope and didn’t include a control group. While unlikely that none of the 16 males managed to charm the females, the results should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s a very good result for Vasalgel, but it’s not a definitive answer.

It’s also worth noting that just because something works in animal studies, it’s not a guarantee that human subjects would see the same results. At least three rounds of human trials are needed before it’s even considered for regulatory approval. But up to now the results are encouraging, so there’s a big chance it will ultimately be green-lighted for human use.

The full paper “The contraceptive efficacy of intravas injection of Vasalgel™ for adult male rhesus monkeys” will be published later this week in the journal Basic and Clinical Andrology.