Reversible “vasectomy”?

Sparked by soaring interests in a new method of contraception, clinical trials are currently underway in the United States on a potential alternative to traditional vasectomy. This device, inserted via a small incision in the scrotum, consists of two miniscule silicone plugs that block the tube and prevent sperm from migrating out of the testicles.

Sparked by soaring interests in a new method of contraception, clinical trials are currently underway in the United States on a potential alternative to traditional vasectomy. This device, inserted via a small incision in the scrotum, consists of two miniscule silicone plugs that block the tube and prevent sperm from migrating out of the testicles.

In a pilot study involving 30 men, this new contraceptive method was quite effective. Studies in monkeys also demonstrated that it is a reversible procedure. Extensive testing is required to determine if this device will be as efficient and as easily removable in men who have used it over a period of years, as opposed to a period of months.

Traditional vasectomy (where both vas deferens tubes that link the testicles and the penis are cut) is designed to be a permanent form of contraception. It can be reversed in some men, provided they pay for the microsurgery, but the probability of pregnancy decreases by 10% for each year the man was vasectomized. Only time will tell if this is also the case with this new device.

The removal of the device is much simpler to perform than reversing a vasectomy. The main concern with this type of contraception is the pressure that can form behind the plugs, which will alter the production of sperm in the testicles, thereby reducing fertility. Researchers in China are currently working on plugs that will be made of a mesh-type material, allowing only a minute amount of sperm to get through. These would be too insignificant in numbers to incite pregnancy. Preventing pressure from occurring could probably help preserve a man’s fertility.

In this day and age, couples have many options of contraception, but only two (vasectomy and condoms) are the man’s responsibility. Today however, men are ready and willing to play a more active role in contraception.

Much research is currently underway to develop a male hormonal contraceptive similar to the female oral contraceptive pill or female contraceptive implants. However, just as they do in women, these hormonal contraceptives affect the entire system and can provoke unpleasant side effects. Researchers are therefore looking for less invasive, non-hormonal, localized and reversible, methods of contraception.

Quite the challenge!

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