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6 April 2009

Iran: Sperm research suggests possible contraceptive developments

Hope for new infertility treatments and a male version of the Pill is a step closer after doctors found a faulty gene linked to poor sperm, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Researchers have found a faulty gene that means sperm movement is affected and they cannot penetrate the egg in order to fertilise it.

Experts said the findings could lead to treatments for men carrying the specific fault, which is thought to be relatively rare, but more importantly it could lead to the development of medical male contraceptives.

Currently the only options for men are condoms or a vasectomy but several attempts at creating a male version of the Pill have been tried.

Researchers from the University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences in Tehran, in Iran, were looking for gene defects linked to inherited deafness and stumbled upon the faulty gene while studying a population in Iran. They found two families were carrying a mutation in the CATSPER1 gene so the protein is missing or not functioning properly.

Dr Michael Hilddebrand, co author of the study from University of Iowa, said:

‘We have identified CATSPER1 as a gene that is involved in non-syndromic male infertility in humans, a finding which could lead to future infertility therapies that replace the gene or the protein. But perhaps even more importantly, this finding could have implications for male contraception. Identification of targets such as the CATSPER1 gene that are involved in the fertility process and are specific for sperm – potentially minimising the side effects of a drug targeting the protein’s function – provide new targets for a pharmacological male contraceptive.’

Studies at Harvard have found that CATSPER1 mutations in mice cause sperm to swim abnormally and this finding shows the gene mutation is present in humans and has the same effect. A drug could be created to stick to the CATSPER1 protein to stop it working properly which would then mean the man produced abnormal sperm unable of fertilising an egg.

The authors warned that this kind of treatment, known as immunocontraception, is still in its infancy and in order to be useful it would need to be safe, effective and reversible.

A spokesperson for the fpa said:

‘Now that women have such a great range of contraceptives to choose from, it is vital that men have options too. Although more research must be done to make sure any male contraceptive is safe and effective, it is great that efforts are being made to increase contraceptive choice.’

Male contraceptive pill is step closer as faulty gene found that causes infertility. Daily Telegraph, 3 April 2009