Ultrasound presents as possible form of cheap, reversible male contraception

September 2, 2010

It may be possible to use ultrasound as a reliable, low-cost form of male contraception, according to ongoing research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the U.S.

It may be possible to use ultrasound as a reliable, low-cost form of male contraception, according to ongoing research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the U.S.

Chief researcher James Tsuruta, Ph.D., embarked on the study after learning about research in the 1970s at the University of Missouri-Columbia finding that a dose of ultrasound to the testes with the appropriate frequency and power could result in enough germ cell loss to cause infertility. Depending on the dosage used, the contraceptive effect could be either permanent or reversed after six months.

The research is being conducted by Tsuruta and Paul Dayton, Ph.D., who received a $100,000 Grand Challenge Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study the effects of ultrasound on the testes with the aim of developing an easy-to-administer and reversible male contraceptive.

The researchers are still in the early stages of setting up their project. Their first experiments have used animal models. They have established that commercially available therapeutic ultrasound instruments can drop sperm counts in rats to levels that would cause infertility in men.

Next they will determine the minimum effective dose of ultrasound that results in reversible contraception. Then they will test the effect of multiple rounds of ultrasound.

“We want to be sure that multiple uses of this method do not result in any detrimental cumulative effects,” Tsuruta said. “By the end of this one-year grant, we should have enough data to determine if it is prudent to pursue the use of ultrasound as a human
contraceptive.”

Since the research is based on the use of therapeutic ultrasound instruments, an approved product could be brought to market much more rapidly than if such a device had to be developed from scratch.

“We hope that community health volunteers would be able to administer the method, once approved,” Tsuruta said.

The goal is to use therapeutic instruments commonly found in sports medicine and physical therapy clinics as an inexpensive, long-term, reversible male contraceptive suitable for use in developing and first-world countries, Tsuruta said.