A new gene discovery may lead to a male contraceptive pill being developed, with researchers in Edinburgh finding that Katnal1 was vital for the final stages of making sperm.
Researchers at the Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh were conducting a study into male fertility when they came across the discovery. After a series of tests genetically altering codes, they were led to Katnal1, which was found to be crucial in the production of sperm.
If future tests are successful, this could allow them to potentially develop a non-harmful contraceptive. Based on their current findings, without protein, sperm do not fully form and the body disposes of them. It is hoped that this could be used as a preventative method without causing long lasting damage.
One of the researchers Dr Lee Smith said: “If we can find a way to target this gene in the testes, we could potentially develop a non-hormonal contraceptive.
“The important thing is that the effects of such a drug would be reversible because Katnal1 only affects sperm cells in the later stages of development, so it would not hinder the early stages of sperm production and the overall ability to produce sperm.”
The researchers will now look for a better drug target before starting pharmaceutical trials. Targeting the protein itself would be difficult because it lives inside the cells, however, there is potential that there is something else that the protein works with.
Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, described new treatments into male fertility as the “Holy Grail” of research for many years.
He said: “The key in developing a non-hormonal contraceptive for men is that the molecular target needs to be very specific for either sperm or other cells in the testicle which are involved in sperm production.
“The gene described by the research group in Edinburgh sounds like an exciting new possible target for a new male contraceptive.”