Contraception adopts a new concept

Photo courtesy of parsemusfoundation.org

A revolution in contraception is taking great leaps forward, three male baboons at a time. The procedure is called Vasalgel, and it has been shown to prevent the healthy male baboon from impregnating a female. The hope is to move into human trials next year, and possibly it may be available for use by humans by 2017.

How does it work? The procedure injects a gel into the male vas deferens, the tube that brings sperm out of the man, preventing sperm from leaving the man during sex.

However, unlike a vasectomy, which cuts the vas deferens, the procedure is completely reversible — a simple injection of a saline solution removes the gel, and the man is fertile in approximately 24 hours.

Baboons were used in the testing of the experimental drug, Vasalgel. Flickr//tedlington

This simple technology is something that can also has benefits far and above convenience.

First, it is cheap. The Parsemus Foundation, the nonprofit that is developing the technology, notes that the cost is likely to be less than a flat-screen television.

This compares to more than a thousand dollars that a single woman, or her health insurance, can spend on contraception every year. It also means that the procedure can be more easily used in less developed countries. This is because doctors will only need to administer the treatment once, as opposed to the continuous need for condoms or the pill. This also means it will be cheaper,and therefore the same amount of funding will ensure more people are covered.

By helping to slow the population boom of developing nations, Vasalgel has a real possibility of making an impact on the development and sustainability of those countries.

Second, it’s a one-shot deal. Unlike most traditional forms of birth control, such as the pill, the Vasalgel treatment only needs to be administered once to be effective. This means that there are likely to be far fewer accidental pregnancies, given thatnearly half of the pregnancies in the United States alone are unintended.

For college students, more than 60 percent of pregnancies are unplanned. Something like Vasalgel, as opposed to condoms or the pill, where a single day’s forgetfulness can change lives, would be incredibly beneficial.

Although human trials are still months away, there have been no observable side effects, unlike traditional hormonal birth control solutions, especially female implant contraceptives. By reducing use of traditional solutions, the procedure has real potential to improve the day-to-day health of millions of women around the world.

Vasalgel can change the way we think about contraception and reproduction. Ever since the first methods of contraception emerged, the traditional way of thinking has been to prevent fertilization inside a woman’s body. Instead, this procedure shows thinking way outside the box, by stopping sperm at the source in a reversible way.

This could lead to a change of the way the political debate is carried out, as contraception would affect both men’s and women’s bodies.

Vasalgel could be utilized by many populations, including college students. Flickr//Quin Bromkowski

Moreover, this method prevents conception, rather than other forms that focus on preventing a fertilized egg embedding in the uterine wall. As such, there is the hope that people will be less likely to raise moral objections, as this contraception cannot be said to be killing a life.

However, there are significant obstacles still in place.

The pharmaceutical industry is bound to make every attempt to bring down this procedure. Contraception is a huge market for these companies, and they have a vested interest in preventing a cheaper procedure reaching the market and undercutting their profits.

It is likely that these companies will attempt to prevent Vasalgel from being released or becoming popular. It also shuts off a large source of funding for the treatment, as drug companies usually fund the development of new procedures. This has made it more difficult for Vasalgel to be put through clinical trials, as the research organization, the Parsemus Foundation, have had to rely on private and crowd-funding.

Secondly, as much as it is completely unfair, in the situation of an unintended pregnancy, the woman will have more significant consequences. After all, she has to make the choice between ending the pregnancy, or carrying the baby, giving birth to it and then either raising it or giving it up for adoption.

Due to this, there may be a natural reaction from many women who want to have control over their contraception, and may need more than just a verbal assurance from men that they have had this procedure done. If there can be a way of certifying that someone has had the procedure done, this may be less necessary, but until such a step is taken, this may be a significant obstacle to introducing the procedure.

Despite the opposition, we can hope that Vasalgel is something we can see in a doctor’s office in just a couple of years. The potential it holds is extraordinary. Let’s hope we can unlock it.


James Stancliffe is a contributing columnist. You can contact him at jstancliffe@luc.edu.

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