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12 May 2010:

Ultrasound waves 'a male contraceptive'

Ultrasound waves could be used as a male contraceptive, scientists believe.


By Kate Devlin, Medical Correspondent                          Link to original webpage
Published: 7:30AM BST 12 May 2010

A one-off blast every six months could provide a temporary and reversible form of birth control, early findings suggest.

The search for a male ‘Pill’ has intrigued researchers for decades.

However, progress has proved extremely slow.

Reasons include a lack of interest from the pharmaceutical industry and a lingering belief that many women would not entrust the job of preventing pregnancy to men.

The effects of ultrasound waves would easily wear off and leave men with no adverse side effects, researchers believe.

Dr James Tsuruta, from the University of North Carolina, said: "We think this could provide men with up to six months of reliable, low-cost, non-hormonal contraception from a single round of treatment.

"Our long-term goal is to use ultrasound from therapeutic instruments that are commonly found in sports medicine or physical therapy clinics as an inexpensive, long-term, reversible male contraceptive suitable for use in developing to first world countries."

The method works by preventing the testes from producing sperm, leaving men temporarily infertile.

Early research has suggested that the method could be successful.

However, experts warned that the long-term effects were still unknown.

The North Carolina team have been given a grant of $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for further trials on the method.

The idea of using ultrasound waves has been around since the 1970s, but had failed to attract much scientific support.

Then in 2007 another North Carolina study suggested that it could be effective at the same time as researchers in Italy found that the technique worked on dogs.

Raffaella Leoci, from the University of Bari, who led the animal study, said: “It's great that many people are working on ultrasound – it will make it easier to get the answers we need.”

Elaine Lissner, from the Male Contraception Information Project (MCIP) in San Francisco, said that the question of whether fertility would return after multiple uses over years still remained.

However, she added: "The exciting thing is that we're getting started finding out.

“The smaller foundations don't have the money to get beyond proof of concept – so Gates has really saved the day."

The funding was announced as a series of projects by the foundation.

"We are convinced that some of these ideas will lead to innovations and eventually solutions that will save lives," said Tachi Yamada, from the Gates Foundation's global health programme.

Introduced in 1961, and initially for married women only, around three million women in Britain are now thought to take the Pill regularly.

The contraceptives work by using synthetically produced hormones to suppress ovulation.