Indian biomedical engineer introduces new type of male birth control

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Sperm swimming toward a human oocyte, ready to make the final kick when they detect the hormone progesterone secreted by the egg. Reuters/Carin Cain

A first male contraceptive in more than a century is emerging from a university startup in rural India. The new strategy uses a polymer gel injected into the sperm-carrying tubes in the scrotum, which impairs male fertility by carrying a positive charge that acts as a barrier on negatively charged sperm, causing damage to heads and tails of healthy sperms so they will become infertile.

Known as reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance (RISUG), the technique was reversed with a second shot, breaking down the gel, which has the consistency of melted chocolate, and allowing it to get through the penis normally. Sujoy Guha is a 76-year-old biomedical engineer who had invented the technique.

Based on a report last year from Pharmaion Consultants, the anticipated launch of the new male contraceptive in the next two years will contribute to the Indian contraceptive market's 17 percent growth through 2021. R. S. Sharma, head of reproductive biology and maternal health at the Indian Council of Medical Research, said the technique is 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, which means it can be as effective as condoms.  He assured that RISUG has no major side effects.

Sharma said at least 540 men in India have tried using the new male contraceptive. RISUG offers years-long fertility control, resolves compliance problems and prevents the ongoing costs associated with condoms and female birth-control pill. Guha said he is now looking for a company who would want to sell it. He registered a startup in India called IcubedG Ideas Pvt. Ltd. while pushing ahead with introducing the technology in his country.

This year, a submission to regulators will seek approval for RISUG to become a permanent method in preventing pregnancy. Sharma said the submission will be backed up with clinical data supporting reversibility. Bloomberg notes that in India, there are more married women with an unmet need for family planning than in any other countries. Due to lack of privacy in stores and social stigma, condom use was kept to less than 6 percent.

According to a United Nations report, only 8 percent of women relied to their male partner when it comes to birth control while nearly 60 percent of women in spousal relationships used contraceptive pill and other forms of contraception. An option for male birth control is expected to garner as much as half the female contraceptives market, as suggested by an Organon research. Below is a video from Seeker that explains another male birth control strategy.

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