|IN FRONT OF NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH, BETHESDA MARYLAND - NARA - 546609 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Although the treatment is not ready for human use, that potential does exist because the method avoids some of the pitfalls of earlier attempts, says Diana Blithe, programme director for contraceptive development at the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland, who was not involved in the study. Blithe is excited by the findings: “The field has a number of leads,” she says, “and this is among the most promising.”
The technique, which is reported today in the journal Cell2, appears to have a much more specific action than previous methods: it impairs sperm production by blocking a protein called BRDT. This protein was singled out as a potential therapeutic target five years ago because it only occurs in the testes, where it is required for the division of sperm cells.
If the approach proves safe in humans, it would be an improvement over hormone-based methods of male contraception, which are not completely effective and cause side effects such as mood swings, acne and a loss of libido.
These typically employ progesterone and testosterone. The progesterone limits sperm production, but it also impairs other 'male' features, such a high muscle mass and the ability to get erections, which a limited amount of therapeutic testoterone then restores.
“The best thing is that we did not affect hormone levels,” says study author Martin Matzuk, a reproductive biologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
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