Scientists are working on a new kind of birth control for men, using ancient tribal poison that African warriors used to lace their arrows that would cause a heart attack on their victims.
University of Minnesota chemistry professor Gunda Georg, along with scientists Jon Hawkinson and Shameem Syeda are working with the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development to figure out whether the substance that used to be a weapon in war can actually be utilized to create a safe and effective birth control method for men, the Daily Beast reports.
The scientists are using a plant extract called ouabain, a toxic substance produced by two types of African plants that African warriors and hunters traditionally used. Mammals also produce the substance in their own bodies but at much lower levels, and researchers believe the self-production of ouabain helps the body regulate blood pressure. They posit that reversible, effective male birth control is within sight after many successful trials on animals, and the researchers are now are moving on to human subjects.
The researchers aren’t seeking to used ouabain as a male contraceptive by itself because it stresses the heart too greatly, but they are playing with adjusting its molecular structure and pairing it with other substances to produce what might become a safe and effective contraceptive.
Thus far, the University of Minnesota researchers have encountered several potential side effects including weight gain, changes in sexual drive and lowering good kinds of cholesterol levels. The researchers do not know what the the long term effects of the male oral contraceptive might be.
World Health Organization numbers suggest that reducing sperm motility by 50 percent or less is enough to temporarily make a man infertile, thus scientists are not seeking to stop men from producing sperm but simply to slow the sperm down enough to become lethargic and unable to penetrate a female’s egg.
Currently, male contraception includes only two methods, condoms and vasectomy. The two methods together account for roughly 30 percent of contraception while the remaining 70 percent of contraceptive devices are for women.
The researchers are hopeful they will encounter a breakthrough relatively quickly, but it is unlikely that a male contraceptive produced from Ouabain will hit the market anytime soon.
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