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Ultrasound Confirmed As Male Contraceptive

January 31, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Abdominal Imaging
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Ultrasound really can be an effective male contraceptive, a North Carolina research team has confirmed. Whether it’s practical remains uncertain.

We reported on the launching of this study in 2010. It built on research done in the 1970s and 1980s by Mostafa Fahim, PhD, of the University of Missouri in Columbia.

The North Carolina researchers found that ultrasound applied to the testes of rats did indeed reduce sperm counts below what’s considered the threshold of fertility for humans. The most effective regimen, they discovered, involved two 15-minute treatments two days apart, with the testes heated to 37°C (98.6°F).

The study was published online Monday in the open-access journal Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. The research team also has a Web site about the project.

There are a few questions. As principal investigator James Tsuruta, PhD, said:

Further studies are required to determine how long the contraceptive effect lasts and if it is safe to use multiple times.

Dr. Tsuruta was quoted in a news release from BioMed Central, which publishes Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology.

A very comprehensive news release from the Male Contraceptive Information Project discusses the new research and the contradictory history of ultrasound contraception research (as well as the experiences of a couple of do-it-yourself researchers). It is well known that heat can reduce sperm production, but Dr. Tsuruta said heat apparently isn’t the only mechanism by which ultrasound works:

There is something special about heating with ultrasound. It caused 10 times lower sperm counts than just applying heat.

Many questions remain: How long does the contraceptive effect last? Is it reversible? Will it work the same way on humans? Would men really come back for two clinical visits in two days? Would men be enthusiastic about direct application of ultrasound to the testes in the first place? What are the long-term effects on sperm production?

“I am convinced that any procedure which leads to subfertility in males is likely to have effects on embryo development,” said Brian Setchell, PhD, of the University of Adelaide in Australia, an expert in animal reproduction. “The effects are not only after heat. Sperm from obese males produce embryos that develop more slowly, and there is evidence for diabetes, various toxins, and therapeutic agents having the same effects in males.”

Depending on the availability of research funding, which seems to be scarce in this field, we may learn the answers to these questions. Stay tuned.

Related seminar: Abdominal & Pelvic Imaging: CT/MR/US

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