Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) researchers at the University of Newcastle are working on a reversible male contraceptive as part of their studies into male infertility.
Dr Mark Baker from the University's Faculty of Science and Information Technology has identified key enzymes including certain kinases that are believed to play a major role in male infertility.
The discovery has led researchers toward the development of a reversible male contraceptive, which would work by inhibiting the key enzymes in sperm, thereby causing infertility. Removal of the drug would allow the function of the kinase to resume as per normal, allowing a reversible, safe method of contraception.
The work uses two dimensional gel technology DIGE (2-D Fluorescence Difference Gel Electrophoresis) developed by partner GE Healthcare which allows the researchers to quickly compare the difference in protein profiles of multiple normal and infertile sperm samples.
Dr Baker says, "By using the DIGE technology we can effectively create a map of each sample and by overlaying them we can identify which proteins are shared by the normal and infertile samples and which proteins are missing in each. One of the proteins identified a protein kinase which may ultimately lead to a male contraception."
"We then start looking at those missing proteins to track down the causes for the differences," said Dr Baker. "Up to ten per cent of the Australian male population is infertile and the rate is rising, at this stage we just don't know why."
Dr Baker says, "While this research is promising we believe it will still take several years before a male contraceptive using this technology or a treatment for infertility will be available."
The University of Newcastle's Centre of Excellence in Biotechnology and Development is one of only eight in the world actively researching male infertility.
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