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‘The Pill’ for Men

• August 16, 2012 • 9:00 AM

Some 10.7 million American women take an oral contraceptive and soon, many men might, too. Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recently found a compound that makes male mice reversibly infertile without stunting their sex drive.

Two years ago, researchers at Dana-Farber created a hybrid molecule that was able to inhibit BRD4, a cancer-causing gene. Soon the researchers learned that the molecule, named JQ1, also inhibits another protein, BRDT, which is crucial for the development of mature sperm.

“We wondered, could the JQ1 molecule, intended initially for cancer, have activity as a male contraceptive agent?” said Dr. James Bradner, the lead author of a study in the August 17th issue of Cell.

Martin Matzuk of Baylor College of Medicine, injected mice with Bradner’s JQ1. The mice treated with the compound had lower sperm counts and less mobile sperm, rendering them infertile. Crucially, when the mice stopped receiving JQ1 their sperm count rebounded and they were able to produce healthy offspring.

“These findings suggest that a reversible, oral male contraceptive may be possible,” Bradner said in a release. “While we will be conducting more research to see if we can build on our current findings, JQ1 shows initial promise as a lead compound for male contraception.”

Female birth control pills have come with a laundry list of side effects, from nausea to decreased libido to melasma. So far JQ1 has shown no negative consequences on the animals’ testosterone levels, behavior, or future offspring. In the future, maybe it will be men checking their watches, discreetly popping a pill at the same time each day.

Matt Skenazy
Matt Skenazy, an assistant editor at Outside magazine, is a former Pacific Standard fellow. His articles have appeared in Sierra, Men’s Journal, the Surfer’s Journal, and Climbing, among others publications.

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