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Toxic plant extract appears to be suitable for contraception in men
So far, most people think about so-called birth control pills that this type of contraception is only possible for women. But for a long time now, doctors have been trying to make birth control pills for men. Researchers have now used a poisonous plant extract, which is traditionally used by African warriors for hunting, to develop such a pill for men.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota in the USA have now discovered that a traditional arrow poison used by warriors in Africa could be used for contraception. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Journal of Medicinal Chemistry".
Will there be a contraceptive pill for men in the future?
Women have many different options for oral contraceptives. These are considered safe, effective and reversible. Despite decades of research, men have no such option. This could change in the near future. An arrow poison from Africa, which is used there for hunting, could lead to the development of a contraceptive pill for men.
Ouabain is also found in the body of mammals
Two types of African plants form the toxic compound called ouabain. This compound is also produced in the body of mammals, but in lower concentrations. It is believed by medical professionals that the compound helps the body control blood pressure. Doctors sometimes prescribe small doses of the compound to treat heart attack patients.
Ouabain limits male fertility
Ouabain interrupts the passage of sodium and calcium ions through the membrane protein. Previous clinical studies have shown that ouabain limits male fertility. However, the compound itself is not suitable as a contraceptive due to the risk of heart damage, the experts explain.
Scientists are trying to develop ouabain analogues
Many researchers and medical professionals, including those from the University of Minnesota, have set themselves the goal of developing so-called ouabain analogues. This chemical compound is said to bind to the alpha4 protein in sperm instead of to subunits in the heart tissue, the study authors explain.
Tests on rats have shown initial success
By removing a sugar group from the ouabain and replacing the group of lactones with a group of triazoles, the researchers have created a derivative that, in rats, includes so-called alpha4 protein in sperm cells. Once this protein is bound, it interferes with the cells' ability to swim, which is an essential part of fertilizing an egg, doctors say. No toxicity was found for the compound in the experiments on rats.
Contraceptive effects appear to be reversible
The contraceptive effect should be reversible because Alpha4 can only be found in mature sperm cells. This means that semen cells produced after stopping treatment with the ouabain derivative should not be affected, the experts explain. (as)