A Review of A Cutting-Edge Hormonal Method of Birth Control for Males
By Kris Thompson Oct. 1, 2014
At present, the only two viable options for males in the arena of birth control are the condom and the vasectomy. The former is far from fail-proof and the latter involves a painful surgery that leaves the vas deferens, the tube that carries sperm from the testicles, permanently severed unless a vasovasectomy to reverse the initial procedure is opted for later. A non-scalpal vasectomy known as Vasalgel is now in the works though, promising to provide a safe, reversible alternative for males in want of effective birth control. Based on an idea originally formulated by Dr. Sujoy Guha, developer of a similar technology currently undergoing clinical trials in India, the non-profit Parsemus Foundation hopes to bring this relatively low-cost product to the market soon.
Hormonal methods, like those that dominate the field of female birth control, have been widely demonstrated by researchers to lack effectiveness in males; for this reason, the most practical, cost-effective option will follow the route of the vasectomy rather than the pill. Like a vasectomy, Vasalgel stops the flow of semen through the vas deferens, but Vasalgel merely blocks the vas deferens with a “semi-solid plug.” Vasalgel is a “polymer hydrogel” injected into the vas deferens in a pain-free procedure that is anticipated to span approximately 15 minutes. The reversibility of this procedure comes from the fact that a single injection can dissolve the polymer later, completely washing away the block.
Though Vasalgel has not made it to human clinical trials at this time, the Parsemus Foundation has been studying its effects in baboons for several months. Multiple baboons have successfully maintained the polymer block for more than 6 months, and all that remains to be explored in these subjects is the reversal phase. The Vasalgel is expected to dissolve without issue, though, as the successful reversal of Vasalgel’s effects has been previously demonstrated in rabbits.
Central to this endeavor is the idea that the Vasalgel procedure can last the length of time an individual chooses. The hopes are that Vasalgel can be employed temporarily or long-term, depending on personal circumstances, with no long-term consequences to fertility.
With this said, Vasalgel will be largely marketed to the male in his 20s or 30s and will serve to complement the pill in the female market. In addition to decreasing the overall rate of unexpected pregnancy, this may also decrease the burden of birth control often placed on women.
The Parsemus Foundation expects human subjects to begin trials by 2015, with larger trials slated for the entirety of 2016. If they go as intended, the product is expected to be available by 2017 for a price far below that of the long-acting contraceptives available to women. Moreover, men will likely appreciate having more control in the process of planning pregnancy while simultaneously being able to alleviate some of the burden placed on their partners. Regardless of the actual outcome of this product, it seems that this is a step in the right direction.