An unusual contraceptive that men rub daily onto their arms and shoulders will begin clinical trials next year.
The hormonal gel, in development for years, reduces a man’s sperm count for about 72 hours, U.S. researchers say. Right now, the only contraceptive options for men are condoms and vasectomies.
The trial will be the largest effort in the United States to test a hormonal type of birth control for men, according to MIT Technology Review.
“Male contraception research is a field littered with failures, but a few promising candidates are in the pipeline,” the publication notes.
More than 400 couples in the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Chile and Kenya will participate in the trial, run by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Every day, men in the trial will pump about half a teaspoon of the quick-drying gel from a bottle and spread it on their upper arms and shoulders.
The gel is a mixture of synthetic versions of progesterone and testosterone, according to Science Alert.
The progesterone analogue blocks the testes from producing normal levels of sperm. The additional testosterone works to keep hormones balanced in the rest of the body, Science Alert says.
A big question researchers want answered: Will men use it every day?
“I am very confident that if men put the gel on every day and apply it correctly, it will be effective,” Stephanie Page, principal investigator and a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, told MIT Technology Review.
Men will reportedly use the gel for four months while their partners use female contraception. When the sperm count gets low enough the women will go off their birth control, and the couples will use only the contraceptive gel for a year.
“If the trial is a success, it could signal a crucial step towards the creation of a way for men to regulate their own fertility,” notes technology website Alphr. “Historically, however, the path towards a male ‘pill’ has not run smoothly.”
On the surface, a rub-in gel sounds much more palatable than male hormone injections that have been studied in recent years.
In the last major study of a hormonal male contraceptives, the men got shots every two months, but they also got severe mood swings.
MIT reports the gel about to undergo clinical trial has already proved to be effective in an early study. Then, it took the form of two types of gels that had to be applied to different parts of the body.
Even if the trial is successful, researchers expect it to take several years to make it available to the general public.