For men, birth control options are pretty limited, and for years we've been promised a male version of the pill – some reversible process that will protect against the threat of offspring that's not as permanent as a vasectomy.
A new injectable gel, however, has already proven nearly foolproof – in baboons, at least – and could hit the market within two years. It's called Vasalgel and is developed by the Parsemus Foundation, a US NGO focusing on developing low-cost prophylactics for the developing world.
Vasalgel works, essentially, by gumming up your pipes. The polymer is injected directly into the vas deferens – the tube that carries your sperm from your balls to your member – rather than snipping them, as with a vasectomy. This forms an impenetrable barrier for sperm that lasts for up to a year but that can be reversed easily via a follow-up injection that dissolves the blockage harmlessly.
And for those baboons, the procedure has been a godsend. As part of a pre-human safety trial that concluded recently, a trio of male baboons were given the injection then set loose on more than a dozen virile females. After half a year of vigorous testing, not one of the females had been impregnated.
The technique, known as reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance (RISUG), was actually created nearly two decades ago by Indian doctor Sujoy Guha and has been under development since then. But with the success of the Baboon trial – and a funding influx from the Packard Foundation – the Parsemus Foundation hopes to get the new product into human trials by next year and, with any luck, have it to market by 2017.
This is an ambitious deadline by any standard, especially with the continuous delays that male contraceptive technology endures. Every male contraceptive that doesn't involve wrapping your penis in a plastic sausage casing seems stuck perpetually at the "two years out" stage and this one, despite its recent funding coup, is still subject to the same social and financial stigmas as the revolutionary contraceptives that came before it.
But with some reports suggesting that 40 per cent of UK pregnancies are "unplanned" and the CDC estimating that almost half of American pregnancies are also unintended, any means of reducing the birth rate – for either gender – will go far to reducing our frenetic population growth. [Parsemus Foundation via the Daily Beast]
Image: Parsemus Foundation