Male contraceptives made from arrow poison shows promise, claims scientist

Male contraceptives made from arrow poison shows promise, claims scientist

Despite the wide range of oral contraceptives now available for women on the market, no pharmaceutical type birth control exists for men, who can only be sterilised through vasectomy, a surgical procedure.

Two types of African plants make ouabain. It is a plant extract earlier used by African warriors and hunters on the tips of arrows as "heart-stopping poison".

However, that might be about to change as a group of researchers from the American Chemical Society (ACS) have found that a particular plant extract could be the key to curbing male fertility. Although, a lot of female contraceptive methods for family planning purposes abound globally, making it very convenient for women of reproductive age to choose from, it is not like that in the male.

Ouabain disrupts the passage of sodium and calcium ions through the membrane protein Na, K-ATPases, which are are found in cell membranes and are made up of protein subunits.

Scientists believe the hormone can help maintain blood pressure levels and physicians sometimes prescribe it to treat patients who have suffered from a heart attack.

The potential threat of heart damage drove the research team to design mild ouabain doses that would pose a reduced threat to the heart and then focused primarily on binding it to a particular protein found in sperm.

By removing a sugar group from ouabain and also replacing its lactone group with a triazole group, researchers created a derivative that is particularly good at zeroing in on alpha4 in sperm cells in rats.

As ouabain can't be used by itself, the researchers designed a number of analogues that could bind to the protein without putting the heart at risk. The compound had no toxicity in rats.

Contraceptives based on this compound would be reversible, the researchers explain, as the protein in question is found only on mature sperm cells. Once bound, it interferes with the cells' ability to swim, which is essential to its role in fertilizing an egg, the scientists showed. New sperm cells were not affected once oubain left the rats' systems.

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