Male Contraceptives—Finding New Strategies
Few contraceptives are for men. Efforts to create new male contraceptives face a number of challenges. For example, hormonal strategies have an inhibitory effect on male libido; the blood-testis barrier obstructs drug delivery; targeting sperm-egg interactions has a high failure rate; and methods that disrupt sperm production can be difficult to reverse. As a result, men have fewer options, and women bear disproportionate responsibility for family planning.
Paula Cohen is identifying new targets for male contraception by investigating genes that govern the spermatogonia-to-meiosis transition. During this preliminary stage of sperm production, sperm-generating stem cells proliferate and then enter meiosis—the two-stage cellular division that yields haploid sex cells. Disrupting the spermatogonia-to-meiosis transition has the potential to block sperm production while preserving the integrity of the spermatogonial stem cell population, which would enable future resumption of spermatogenesis when contraception is no longer needed.
Previous research in Cohen’s lab established a new cell platform to support, track, and disrupt cellular differentiation during the spermatogonia-to-meiosis transition—rendering this phase of sperm production newly accessible to experimental interventions in vitro. For the current project, the Cohen lab will experimentally edit various genes in a large population of spermatogonial stem cells. By following which mutations alter the progression of meiosis, researchers will identify genes that are strong contraceptive targets.
With the goal of providing new strategies for male contraception, this research could help to redistribute responsibility for family planning more evenly among the sexes, empower women and girls, and create greater gender equity in the family.