The non-hormonal Pill: Contraception without the side effects

The Pill has given women sexual freedom since the 1960s, but it comes with some dangerous side effects such as risk of blood clots, high blood pressure and breast cancer

The benefits of the Pill are often weighted more highly than the possible drawbacks, but what if there was a contraceptive Pill that had the added bonus of no side effects? Scientists believe they may have found the answer.

Reported in the Journal of Nature, researchers think they have tracked down the signal of fertile attraction between the egg and sperm and believe they may be able to develop non-hormonal contraceptives to turn this signal off.

Dejian Ren, a physiologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, says: ‘This is one of the first times people have figured out on a molecular level how an egg signals to a sperm.’

The Pill currently works by using hormones to suppress ovulation, meaning there is no egg to be fertilized and pregnancy can’t occur. Although this process is largely safe, some oral contraceptives increase therisk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Scientists, however, have discovered a calcium channel on the sperm called CatSper that is attracted to the hormone progesterone, released by eggs. They believe it is possible to develop a non-hormonal drug that prevents this process by instigating a rapid influx of calcium in the sperm.

The latest discovery came from tests carried out on mice and human sperm by Dr Polina Lishko and colleagues at the University of California. She says: ‘We’ve finally solved the question of what progesterone does to human sperm. It represents a promising target for the development of a new class of non-hormonal contraceptives.’

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