Saturday, August 18, 2012

Male birth control pill could be ready for testing in a year

A male birth control pill could be ready for testing in just a year. ‘The only significant side effect we've seen has been mild weight loss,’ James Bradner says. ‘For sure, some people would not be too upset with this.’

A medical breakthrough could lead to a male birth control pill without side effects.

Alexander Fleming's accidental discovery of penicillin was one of the most important—and fortunate—mistakes of the 20th century. Nearly 100 years later, James Bradner thinks he and his colleagues may have stumbled on something that could be similarly world-changing: A molecule that could lead to the world's first effective male birth control pill, which could be ready for human testing within a year.

Bradner, of Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, says he was working on creating an inhibitor molecule that could make cancer cells "forget" they were cancer, leading to potential new treatments for lung and blood cancers. But in doing so, he realized the molecule, named JQ1, can also inhibit a protein in the testes that is imperative to fertility.

"In mating studies, JQ1 accomplishes a complete and reversible contraceptive effect in males without adversely affecting testosterone levels or mating behaviors and without prompting obvious [birth defects]in offspring," Bradner and Martin Matzuk, of the Baylor College of Medicine write in their study, published in the journal Cell on Thursday. In other words, they may have found the "holy grail" of male birth control.

JQ1 is known as a "small molecule," meaning it can effectively pass through the blood stream and into the testes. Once there, it binds to BRDT, a protein integral in sperm production.

"These cells effectively forget how to make mature sperm," he says. "The result is a profound decrease in sperm count and impared motility, leading to a complete contraceptive effect. It's really stunning."

According to Bradner, the molecule could be delivered via a pill, injectable, or topical solution.

"As early as next year, we may have a sense of how well this works in humans," he says. And the molecule still shows promise as a cancer treatment. "What was initially a side project in our laboratory has become a major focus of our research…we're still aggressively advancing a derivative of it as a cancer drug." 

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