Testicular therapeutic ultrasound, multi-month contraceptive
In 2007, Parsemus Foundation sponsored a study, conducted by Family Health International with the University of North Carolina, to test therapeutic ultrasound applied to the testes as a multi-month contraceptive (reportedly 15 minutes of treatment for about 6 months of effect). This method was shown to work by one professor in the 1970’s but had never been taken seriously by other researchers until now. The FHI/UNC team’s successful pilot study was the basis for the UNC team’s winning application for a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations grant to continue the work. Congratulations to the team for doing the work that got this method taken seriously!
In January 2012, the results from the UNC team were published and got widespread press coverage. Here are a few examples:
Parsemus Foundation is also funding an Italian team working on ultrasound to continue their successful work on ultrasound as permanent sterilization in dogs. Lastly, we have funded an ultrasound study at the University of California, which has managed to get it to work in primates (although not as quick or long-lasting as in dogs; these older monkeys have big tough testes!). Preliminary results from all three teams were presented in October 2011 as posters at the Future of Contraception Initiative conference.
It is now clear that under the right conditions, ultrasound works. Based on the results of these studies, though, we think ultrasound has the most potential as a nonsurgical sterilization alternative, rather than the 6-month contraceptive originally imagined (since with short-term use, one gets into tricky issues of how long it takes to wear off, whether there might be poor-quality sperm during the bounce-back period that are still capable of fertilizing and causing an abnormal offspring, and whether and how reliably fertility would bounce back after repeated use).
We encourage other funders to pursue ultrasound as a permanent nonsurgical sterilization (a nonsurgical alternative to vasectomy) now that the proof of concept is done, as we must focus our funding on Vasalgel. It is readily available (ultrasound machines are already in physical therapists’ offices around the world) and could be the first nonsurgical alternative to vasectomy. We also keep our eye on, and encourage, contraceptive research in general– with an emphasis on finishing the job on methods already known to work.
More about ultrasound can be found at the Male Contraception Information Project.