Couples are being recruited to take part in a groundbreaking trial of a male contraceptive gel that could allow men and women to take equal responsibility for birth control in future.
Eighty men in Manchester and Edinburgh will be asked to use a daily gel containing hormones that “send the testes to sleep”, meaning the sperm count drops to zero.
Couples will rely on the gel as their sole contraceptive for a year, as part of a clinical trial to assess how effective it is at preventing pregnancy and whether the side-effects are acceptable.
Richard Anderson, a professor of clinical reproductive science at the University of Edinburgh, who is leading the study, said the method was expected to be more effective than condoms, which in real-life conditions are about 82% effective. “We’re aiming to get it down to the sort of level you get with the pill which is a very small but not zero failure rate,” he said.
The gel, called NES/T, is a hormone-based treatment designed to reduce sperm production without affecting libido and works in a very similar way to the female pill. It contains progestogen, which acts on the brain’s pituitary gland to switch off sperm production. The gel also contains testosterone to offset a drop in the male hormone caused by progestogen, which could otherwise cause unpleasant side-effects.
One of the reasons the quest for a male pill has proved so difficult is because the hormones are quickly metabolised by the liver. A gel gets around this because it is absorbed from the skin directly into the bloodstream.
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