The first thing that comes to mind whenever we think about birth control is the pill for women. It is known that women have far more options for long-lasting, reversible contraceptives than men when it comes to contraceptives. Women also usually bear most of the responsibility and cost of birth control since female methods can be more expensive than those for men. More so, pill contraceptives are not entirely foolproof, and some women can’t take them due to various side effects and certain health risks.
The limited options available to men also have several advantages, including high failure rates for condoms, and surgical vasectomy is not reliably reversible. Hence, the need and desire for novel male contraceptive methods. With this being said, researchers are starting to work on expanding the options for male contraception.
One current research from the American Chemical Society focused on discovering novel methods for male contraception and found a new approach to male birth control. The scientists from China’s Nantong University went on to develop a safe, practical magnetic-thermal approach to male contraception that doesn’t involve direct injection into the testes.
For reproductive health and population control, it is crucial to provide effective male contraceptive methods that are safe, non-invasive, and under control. A few studies have shown that reversible male contraception can be achieved by temporarily inhibiting spermatogenesis and testicular function with modest testicular heat.
Most of these research projects looked at the more painful, skin-damaging, intense heating of nanoparticles injected into the testes as a male birth control method. Most of the nanomaterials tried so far are not biodegradable.
Hence, the researchers aimed to address this concern by testing two forms of iron oxide nanoparticles as male contraceptives due to their biodegradability and ability to be heated and steered by magnetic fields. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) was applied to one type of nanoparticle and citric acid to the other.
Despite being able to be heated to greater degrees, the PEG-coated nanoparticles were more difficult to manipulate with magnets than the others. As a result, the scientists repeatedly injected citric acid-coated nanoparticles into the bloodstream of mice for two days, used magnets to direct the nanoparticles to the testes, and then exposed the area to an alternating magnetic field for 15 minutes.
The nanoparticles heated the testes to a temperature of 104°F, which is substantially higher than the body’s average temperature but still appears safe.
It is safe to assume that the warmed magnets won’t harm anything they aren’t supposed to because, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, your skin will begin to feel first-degree burns at 118 degrees F.
The testes shrank, and spermatogenesis was impeded by the prescribed heat dose, followed by a slow recovery lasting 30 to 60 days. Seven days following the medication, the mice were unable to father any pups, but by day 60, they were again producing roughly 12 pups per pregnant female.
According to the researchers, the nanoparticles were safe for cells and gradually removed from the body, opening up new options for male contraception.
The research’s findings demonstrate that a treatment like this that might someday be made accessible to people would not be the only choice regarding family planning. It appears that choosing to take a little heat for a few months of birth control won’t interfere with anyone’s long-term intentions for motherhood because the therapy was intended to be temporary, and the biodegradable nanoparticles disappear with time.
Men and women will be able to fully regulate their fertility in family planning once safe, reversible, and effective male contraceptives are available. The eventual availability of male contraceptives may also significantly lower the rate of unwanted pregnancies worldwide. Additionally, as birth control is not solely the duty of women, this development will advance reproductive rights and more significant equity in family planning.
Ding, W., Chen, Z., Gu, Y., Chen, Z., Zheng, Y., & Sun, F. (2021). Magnetic testis targeting and magnetic hyperthermia for non-invasive, controllable male contraception via intravenous administration. Nano Letters, 21(14), 6289–6297. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.nanolett.1c02181