PG NewsPG delivery
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Home Page
PG News: Nation and World, Region and State, Neighborhoods, Business, Sports, Health and Science, Magazine, Forum
Sports: Headlines, Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Collegiate, Scholastic
Lifestyle: Columnists, Food, Homes, Restaurants, Gardening, Travel, SEEN, Consumer, Pets
Arts and Entertainment: Movies, TV, Music, Books, Crossword, Lottery
Photo Journal: Post-Gazette photos
AP Wire: News and sports from the Associated Press
Business: Business: Business and Technology News, Personal Business, Consumer, Interact, Stock Quotes, PG Benchmarks, PG on Wheels
Classifieds: Jobs, Real Estate, Automotive, Celebrations and other Post-Gazette Classifieds
Web Extras: Marketplace, Bridal, Headlines by Email, Postcards
Weather: AccuWeather Forecast, Conditions, National Weather, Almanac
Health & Science: Health, Science and Environment
Search: Search by keyword or date
PG Store: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette merchandise
PG Delivery: Home Delivery, Back Copies, Mail Subscriptions

Headlines by E-mail

Headlines Region & State Neighborhoods Business
Sports Health & Science Magazine Forum

New Male Contraceptive Planned

Monday, October 05, 1998

By Sonja Barisic, Associated Press Writer

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - Researcher Joseph C. Hall says he's close to meeting the challenge his wife and the mother of his six children gave him more than a decade ago: Invent a birth control pill men can take.

The Norfolk State University biochemist has created a compound that he said neutralizes sperm. Hall said he believes the compound, in pill form or possibly a patch, could be on the market within five years.

Such a pill would offer men an alternative to condoms, which can inhibit sexual pleasure, or vasectomies, surgical procedures which often are not reversible.

"If you give them an option, they'll use it" - especially if it's reversible, reliable and nontoxic, said Hall, 42, who arrived at Norfolk State last year after teaching at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Hall's work focuses on an enzyme that sperm use to detect and fertilize eggs.

"If you could find out what part of the sperm is the `eye,' you could find a way to block it," said Hall, who works out of a temporary lab in a trailer on campus. "You essentially create a blind sperm."

In the fertilization process, a protein on a sperm latches onto the sugary coating surrounding an egg by connecting with a protein on the egg. That produces an enzyme that eats through the coating, allowing the sperm to enter and fertilize the egg.

Hall's compound is similar to the egg coating and acts as a decoy by binding to the enzyme. That prevents the enzyme from attacking the egg coating, meaning fertilization can't take place.

Hall said he has had success rates of 92 to 98 percent in tests on rats, with no apparent side effects.

"That's a good approach," said Dr. Christina Wang, chairwoman of the World Health Organization's Male Contraceptive Task Force and manager of several studies on male contraception.

But Hall is looking at much more than five years before he could market a pill because more research needs to be done, including human trials, said Ms. Wang, of the Harbor-UCLA Research and Education Institute in Torrance, Calif.

Fertility researcher and gynecologist Dr. Jaroslav Marik was more skeptical. He said the compound could work if it targets only the sperm enzyme without affecting enzymes in other body parts and creating side effects. However, he isn't sure that's possible.

Even if Hall's work is successful, Marik doubts that there will be much of a market for a male contraceptive pill.

"It will have to compete against a pretty efficient medication which already is available" for women, said Marik, medical director of the Tyler Medical Clinic, an infertility clinic in Los Angeles. A male pill might be an option in those few instances when a woman is unable to take birth control pills, he said.

Hall and other researchers, though, believe many men, especially those in long-term, monogamous relationships, will be interested in a contraceptive pill of their own.

"It's a matter of sharing responsiblity and men accepting responsibility for family planning and in general for reproductive health," Ms. Wang said.

The availability of another contraceptive method could help reduce the more than 3 million unwanted pregnancies annually in the United States, said Nancy Alexander, a physiologist and associate director of medical services at Organon Inc., of West Orange, N.J., a subsidiary of the Dutch pharmaceutical company N.V. Organon, which markets birth control pills.

"The more contraceptive choices the better," said Ms. Alexander. "Male contraception wouldn't be for everyone, but then no contraceptive is."

Hall is doing further research to make his compound even more effective, and he hopes to soon begin testing the pill on men.

His work has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation. To speed the research along, Hall has started his own company, Innovative Reproductive Technologies, based in Virginia Beach. Five scientists are working with him on the project.

Hall said many past and present attempts to find an effective male contraceptive have involved trying to reduce sperm production by manipulating hormone levels. They have been unsuccessful, he said, because that can suppress the sex drive and affect secondary sexual characteristics. For example, he said, a man could grow breasts.

Hall said he believes his method will be more successful because it disrupts the function of sperm, not its production.

A male pill will affect men's lives as much as the female pill did for women, predicted Wayne Ferrell, a sex therapist and San Diego-based author of "Why Men Are the Way They Are."

It will allow men the same control over conception that the pill has long given women, Farrell said. "The female birth control pill took women away from biology being their destiny," he said. Until men get their own pill, "female biology is male destiny."

bottom navigation bar Terms of Use  Privacy Policy