An experimental birth control measure attacks sperm like a virus

For thousands of years, People have come up with some very effective ways to avoid having children. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks used linen sheaths and animal bladders, which were the predecessors of modern latex condoms and diaphragms. Now we have spermicides, sponges, intrauterine devices, pills and implants to isolate sperm and eggs. There is only one problem: people who want to avoid pregnancy don’t always use contraception.

“An important fact here is that about half of pregnancies are unwanted pregnancies,” said Deborah Anderson, a professor at Boston University School of Medicine who specializes in obstetrics, gynecology and infectious diseases. “Although we have a very good method for hormonal contraception, its penetrating power is not as good as we want.”

Some people do not want to use hormonal contraception for many reasons: it requires a prescription, can cause unpleasant side effects, puts the responsibility of contraception on women, and needs to remember to take birth control pills every day or one injection for three months, or More invasive implant surgery. Other methods also have their disadvantages: some methods require the consent of partners, are easy to forget or use improperly, or have a low success rate.

Therefore, scientists have been studying a new method that is easy to use, cautious and effective without changing female hormones. This strategy uses artificial proteins called monoclonal antibodies to mimic the antibodies used by the immune system and attack the sperm before they enter the egg.Recent papers-published in Science Translational Medicine In August, another article was published in Biomedical Science July-Proving that these antibodies can attach to sperm and render them powerless.Other studies have investigated whether these antibodies can be used Fight against HIV Or the viruses that cause herpes, and whether they can be safely used as Topical contraceptives Or as insert Like a vaginal ring.

“The timing is right,” said Anderson, the study’s co-author. Biomedical Science The paper shows that the produced antibodies can effectively bind to sperm.

If monoclonal antibodies sound familiar, it’s because they have recently been used as a treatment Fight against Covid-19. Antibodies are proteins used by the body’s immune system to fight infections. They bind to specific parts of a specific intruder and neutralize them, while also sending a signal to the body that it is under attack and needs to make more defensive agents. We are born with some antibodies. Others develop after we come into contact with a new bacteria and get sick—think of the hard-won itchy immunity from chickenpox. Some are produced after exposure to vaccines, which can train the body to resist certain invaders without causing the pain of actual diseases.

Now, some are created in the laboratory. These are short-term defenders, not permanent immune system changes; a bit like temporary bodyguards that can prevent unwelcome guests—sperm—from joining the party.

Anderson envisions a vaginal membrane that can be purchased in a pharmacy without a prescription. Each movie will last approximately one day. “I think women who have sex occasionally might use it,” she said. “They don’t want to use constant methods like hormonal methods. They only use the product when they need it.”

Some people are born with anti-sperm antibodies, which don’t kill sperm, but instead condense them into a giant tangle. When sperm cannot swim out of the unsuitable acidic environment of the vagina, they die. In the 1970s, scientists began to try to replicate these antibodies in the laboratory. But “At the time, the ability to make antibodies and give them in specific doses was impossible,” said Samuel Lai, director of the University of North Carolina’s Pharmaceutical Engineering Program at Chapel Hill and co-author of the August paper. They are also very expensive to synthesize enough. “This is why all the early work focused on contraceptive vaccines,” he continued.

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