NL 2017/02

Vasalgel - Men’s new option

Nowadays there are numerous modern and safe methods of birth control for her which put her in control of the fertility of the couple. For him, however, there is nothing quite so reliable except sterilisation. Condoms and coitus interruptus are less advisable. Still, sterilisation too goes with a snag: it only complies with those who have no (more) wish for children. For the reversal surgery means quite a gamble: It can possibly work out, yet without guarantee.

Repeatedly the media announce Vasalgel as a safe, non-permanent and at the same time side-effect free method: In a 15-minutes procedure, a non-hormonal gel is injected into the vas deferens a little outside of the testes, blocking the sperm from passing through once it has congealed. The skin puncture produced by the needle is even so small that it does not require any stitching after. This `sperm barrier´ stays in spot for ten years. Should the man change his mind in the meantime, an injection of a disbanding solution can flush the gel out again and his fertility recovers within few days.

This minor intervention known to professionals as RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance) was developed back in 1970 by Sujoy Guha of India, professor of medical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology. In 2010, the Parsemus Foundation, a U.S.-American NGO developing “low cost solutions that have been neglected by the pharmaceutical industry” bought the RISUG patent for 90.000 euros. The Vasalgel represents a slightly modified version of the original patent.

What sounds exciting in theory is however associated with numerous problems in real life. The method has only been tested successfully in rabbits so far. For the market approval, it needs to perform well in human trials too and clinical studies that meet the standards of the health authorities in Europe and the US. In addition, matters concerning production, stability etc. are to be settled. The highly optimistic reports in the media are somehow surprising given the numerous open questions. In the past we have seen several such euphoric announcements about the imminent approval of a new method of which we never heart anything later on.

Generally, there are 4 main approaches to male contraception: reduction of sperm production, suppression of sperm maturation, inhibition of sperm function and obstruction of sperm transport. Vasalgel makes use of the latter.

Developing suitable contraception methods for men proves a true challenge and is more difficult than in women as there are about one hundred million sperms released in a single `shot´ – whereas in women the fertilisation of only one egg cell needs to be blocked. Many started research projects for a male contraception started optimistically but had to stopped because of safety concerns or serious side effects. But the development of the ‘Pill’ also lasted several decades and was not financed by pharmaceutical companies but by two women.

Another possible drawback comes along with the unpredictability of market opportunities. Men will be happy to take control of their fertility. But marketing could fail because of women. With a male method they will be at their partners’ mercy and eventually only find out several months later whether their partners’ promise “I take care of contraception“ has been true.

Nevertheless many highly engaged male and female researchers and doctors continue to work on a reversible and effective method for men.
Find out more at: International Consortium for Male Contraception = ICMC


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