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Gel-based 'male birth control' could enable temporary, reversible vasectomies

gel based male contraception couple holdin ghands
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Vasectomies are a great thing, but while people may be sure that they’re the right decision to take at the time, it’s difficult to know exactly what the future will hold.

True, there are vasectomy reversal operations, but these have a decreasing chance of leading to a successful pregnancy the longer they are left after the operation. Ten years after a vasectomy is carried out, a reversed operation will lead to pregnancy only around 30 percent of the time.

Things may be looking up, however, thanks to a new vasectomy alternative recently described in the journal Basic and Clinical Andrology. It involves a substance called Vasalgel, which doesn’t impair the manufacture or swimming of sperm, but instead stops it from reaching its, erm, point of release.

“In a regular vasectomy, an incision is made on each side of the scrotum and surgeons then severe the vas deferens, referring to the long tube which winds around from the testicle to the penis, carrying sperm to where it enters the semen,” Professor Catherine VandeVoort, one of the co-authors on the paper, told Digital Trends. “There are various approaches to a vasectomy, but they involve destroying the integrity of the vas: either removing a piece, crushing it with a clamp mechanism, or cutting and cauterizing it.”

In the new alternative method, instead of crushing or cauterizing the vas, the Vasalgel is injected under anesthetic, which then acts as a barrier, preventing the sperm from going any further.

“The advantage to this is that the integrity of the vas can be maintained, which means that at a later date you could potentially go back and flush this gel out without problem,” VandeVoort continued.

So far, the injection part of the procedure has been tested by University of California researchers on a group of 16 adult male monkeys, with more than half the group already being fathers. The monkeys were observed for a week following the injection, after which they were allowed to rejoin the fertile females from their group. Despite mating taking place, none of the female monkeys became impregnated.

According to VandeVoort, a clinical trial with (human) males is planned as a future step, although even if this is successful, it is likely that a publicly-available product would take several years to roll out. It’s also worth noting, of course, that — despite being a potential alternative to condoms — the approach wouldn’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

Okay, you can uncross your legs now!

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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