Risk-free Pill for men

by BEEZY MARSH, Daily Mail

Scientists have developed a contraceptive for men which is said to be 100 per cent effective and free of unpleasant side-effects.

Experts hailed the news last night as the biggest advance since the launch of the Pill for women 50 years ago.

The treatment involves an implant under the skin - meaning men cannot forget to take it - and hormone injections.

A tablet version could be available in as little as two or three years.

Previous attempts to develop male contraceptives have been dogged by problems over reliability and off-putting side-effects, including mood swings and lack of sex drive. But some men found the new treatment actually boosted their libido - a result expected to make it highly popular.

Once the treatment was stopped, normal fertility returned within six or seven months.

Trials of the 'male pill' are continuing, but it is likely to revolutionise family planning by offering men and women equal responsibility. It will be welcomed by women worried about the possible risks of the female Pill, which is known to increase the danger of blood clots and strokes.

The dramatic new results have come from Australian research but similar studies are taking place in Britain with the aim of producing a pill. Last year they had a 93 per cent success rate at halting sperm production in tests on volunteers.

In the five-year Australian trials, men were given implants of the male hormone testosterone and injections every three months of the hormone progestin, which is used in female Pills.

The study, led by Professor David Handelsman from the ANZAC Research Institute in Sydney, involved 55 couples. None of the women became pregnant and none of the men suffered any side-effects.

Professor Handelsman said: "This is the first time a male contraceptive that will suppress sperm production reliably and reversibly has been fully tested on couples. It's not going to be everybody's cup of tea but it will be a really useful option for some."

He said developing a male pill was much more difficult than controlling female fertility because a man generates 1,000 sperm a minute while a woman usually releases only one egg a month.

Hormones which switch off sperm production also switch off a man's own testosterone, so it has to be replaced.

Professor Handelsman said commercial manufacture was now up to the drug companies: "We've proved it's possible," he said.

One happy volunteer was Sydney policeman Chris Hains, who joined the trial in 2000 because his wife Nicole was having problems with the contraceptive injection Depo-Provera.

The testosterone implants were inserted under the skin of his abdomen by doctors using local anaesthetic and replaced every three to four months.

Apart from the discomfort of the incision, Mr Hains said, the only side effect was increased libido - "from my point of view a positive effect."

About seven months after the couple left the trial, Mrs Hains fell pregnant with their son, Connor, now four months old. Although the treatment was tested only on men in relationships, Mr Hains said it would also be popular with single men.

The Family Planning Association said last night the development would be welcomed.

He said: "We know from our helpline that men are keen to get involved in contraception but the options are limited. There are a number of studies ongoing into a male pill and if this brings it one step closer it must be welcomed."

The UK trials involve scientists from the German drug firm Schering and its Dutch rival Akzo Nobel, which makes Organon female contraceptives. Prototypes are being tested at Edinburgh University under the guidance of the Medical Research Council.

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