The birth control of the future has arrived.
Researchers at University of California, Berkeley recently figured out how to solve some of the most common problems posed by traditional birth control methods by targeting the mechanism that powers sperm’s “drilling” capabilities.
That mechanism — or “power kick” — as scientists like to call it, is known as Catsper, an ion channel that activates once sperm gets close to an egg.
According to Wired, UC Berkeley researchers tested over 50 chemical compounds to find a way to turn off sperm’s “power kick” and discovered two potential solutions: lupeol and pristimerin.
The two naturally occurring compounds could be especially useful in developing a more effective — and less controversial — form of emergency contraception. As opposed to traditional morning-after pills, which prevent an already-fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus, the compounds would prevent a sperm from attaching to an egg altogether.
“This method is not only 10 times more effective than anything currently on the market, but it clearly prevents fertilization,” Polina Lishko, the study’s lead researcher, told Wired. “There’s no embryo at any point.”
Lishko told the outlet that the chemical compounds could lend themselves to a “universal contraceptive” — one that would work for both male and female reproductive systems.
Scientists have been teasing the promise of male birth control for years now. In March 2016, pharmaceutical developers at the Parsemus Foundation suggested they were on the verge of putting their male contraceptive, Vasalgel, a polymer injected into the vas deferens, on the market. But at the time, researchers were still unsure for how long exactly an injection of Vasalgel would last, which meant there was still some work to do.
This year, though, Vasalgel took a more promising step, proving that it could be effective for as long as 10 years in a February study that tested the birth control on monkeys.
That the UC Berkeley researchers’ discovery would benefit both sexes could make it more appealing to Big Pharma, so a future with male birth control could be more feasible than ever.