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U of M making progress on male birth control pill

Researchers at the University of Minnesota continue their work on a male birth-control pill.

MINNEAPOLIS - Since the 1960s, there's been an FDA-approved birth control pill for women, with very little progress on any over-the-counter option for men.

Well, research at the University of Minnesota has led to a breakthrough for a male birth control pill.

"Basically, when we gave this compound to rats and then looked at their sperm, we found that the sperm motility was greatly reduced," said Dr. Gunda Georg, the lead researcher and the Head of the Medicinal Chemistry Department at the U of M.

The sperm's movement stopped.

Outside her office, proof and pride in her team's progress. So, how did they get this far? It started with a connection to a toxic compound called ouabain.

"It is a component of a plant in Africa, so it had been used by warriors to make poisoned darts," said Dr. Georg.

Except, Dr. Georg says, in smaller doses, it can be used to regulate heart function. They worked with it and found ouabain can be effective in paralyzing sperm, and there were no side effects in the rats they tested.

"We're particularly excited about this project because it doesn't really interfere with sperm development, as far as we know," said Dr. Georg.

But, it needs to be 100% safe and at least 99% effective. That's why Dr. Georg's team has more studies planned, this time by mating rats, starting them on a dose, then taking it away.

"We want to have them go down infertility and maintain this for a while, and then we want to see that fertility come back," said Dr. Georg.

And, then, they'll make sure the offspring are healthy. Dr. Georg's says - it's expensive but important.

"Almost 50% of all pregnancies in the United States are still unintended. That's a very large number. And, that's why we are excited about providing potentially some other means of contraception, where you know, I guess, men could participate in a new way," said Dr. Georg.

If all goes well, Dr. Georg says this pill could be on the market in about a decade.