The long awaited “male pill” remains as far off as ever, but a radical new technique may offer a long-lasting male contraceptive that removes the need for condoms.
A team of researchers in China has come up with a combination of nanotechnology and tiny magnets to make men temporarily infertile.
It’s well-known that men’s testicles need to be kept cool to work properly. The scientists found that they were able to steer iron oxide nanoparticles into the correct position using magnets and then heat them for around 15 minutes using a stronger magnetic field.
The nanoparticles, coated with citric acid, heated the testes to a temperature of 104ºF (about 40ºC).
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In experiments, researchers Weihua Ding and Fei Sun were able to make male mice completely infertile for several days at a time.
The testicles of the mice were significantly reduced in size by the procedure, but the effect naturally reversed itself over 30 to 60 days.
Once the procedure worse off, the laboratory mice were back to fathering about 12 baby mice every time they mated.
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“The nanoparticles were non-toxic to cells and were gradually eliminated from the body, offering new possibilities for male contraception,” the Nantong University researchers explained in a press release.
Initial experiments involved injecting gold nanorods directly into the testes but this approached turned out to be too painful to be a practical method of contraception in humans.
Noting that the golden rod technique was only about 90% effective the researchers added that there were "associated limitations, such as testicular administration and infrared laser inflicting severe pain."
The researchers published their results last month in a paper entitled Magnetic Testis Targeting and Magnetic Hyperthermia for Noninvasive, Controllable Male Contraception via Intravenous Administration in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
One possible application for the technology could be in the farming industry, enabling livestock breeders to selectively manage how often their animals reproduce.
But inevitably the focus will fall on possible applications in humans, providing an alternative to permanent vasectomies or the unpopular and far from eco-friendly condom.
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