Experimental birth control attack on sperm like a virus

over thousands of years, People have come up with some very effective ways to avoid having children. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks used linen sheaths and animal bladders, a precursor to modern condoms and diaphragms made of latex. Now we have spermicides, sponges, intrauterine devices, pills, and implants to keep the sperm and egg separate. There is only one problem: people who want to avoid pregnancy do not always use contraceptives.

“The big truth here is that about half of all pregnancies are unintended,” says Deborah Anderson, MD, a professor at Boston University School of Medicine who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology and infectious diseases. “Although we have a really good approach to hormonal contraceptives, it’s not as breakthrough as we would like.”

There are many reasons why some people don’t want to use hormonal contraceptives: they require a prescription, can cause unpleasant side effects, put the burden of contraception on women, and require you to remember a pill every day or take an injection each time. Three months, or more surgery to implant the implant. Other methods also have their drawbacks: some require the consent of the partner, are easy to forget or use incorrectly in the heat of the moment, or have a lower success rate.

So scientists were working on a new method that would be easy to use, discreet, and effective without altering women’s hormones. This strategy uses manufactured proteins called monoclonal antibodies to mimic antibodies used by the immune system and attack sperm before they reach the egg. Recent papers – one published in Translational Medicine Sciences In August and last published in EBioMedicine In July – he showed that these antibodies can stick to sperm and render them impotent. Other studies have investigated the possibility of using these antibodies Fighting HIV Or the virus that causes herpes, and whether it is safe to apply it as topical contraceptives or like Appendix Like the vaginal ring.

“The timing is right,” says Anderson, a co-author of EBioMedicine A paper showed that the manufactured antibodies were effective in binding to sperm.

If monoclonal antibodies sound familiar, it is because they have recently received a lot of attention as their treatment Fighting Covid-19. Antibodies are proteins made by the human immune system to fight infection. They stick to specific locations on specific invaders and neutralize them, while also signaling to the body that it is under attack and needs to make more defensive agents work. We are born with some of our own antibodies. Others are formed after we’ve been exposed to a new germ and disease – think the itchy, hard-earned immunity that comes from having chickenpox. Some are created after exposure to a vaccine that trains the body to fend off certain invaders without the misery of actual disease.

And now, some of them are being created in the lab. They are meant to be short-term defenders, not permanently altering the immune system; A kind of temporary guard that can prevent unwanted guests – sperm – from joining the party.

Anderson envisions a vaginal film that can be purchased at a drugstore without a prescription. Each movie will run for about a day. “I think it may be common for use by women who have occasional intercourse,” she says. “They don’t want to be on something like the hormonal method which is a fixed method. They only want to use a product when they need it.”

Some people naturally produce anti-sperm antibodies, which don’t kill the sperm, but make them coagulate into giant tangles. When sperm cannot swim out of the harsh acidic environment of the vagina, they die. In the 1970s, scientists began trying to reproduce those antibodies in the laboratory. But “at the time, the ability to manufacture antibodies and give them in specific doses was not possible,” says Samuel Lay, director of the University of North Carolina’s Pharmaceutical Engineering Program at Chapel Hill and co-author of the August paper. It was also very expensive to manufacture enough of them. “That’s why all the early work focused on a contraceptive vaccine,” he continues.

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