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Study on male contraceptive shows promise

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new study released Monday says a hormonal male contraceptive has met with some success -- raising the prospect that one day men will have access to a birth control method similar to the pill millions of women take.

Researchers from The University of Edinburgh's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology said they have found a way to suppress daily sperm production while maintaining normal levels of testosterone in the body, with only minor side effects.

Those side effects included mood swings, weight gain and increased appetite, some of the same side effects felt by women who take contraceptive pills.

The study consisted of 30 men at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and 36 men at the Shanghai Institute of Family Planning Technical Instruction in China. For 24 weeks, the men were randomly given either 150 micrograms or 300 micrograms of desogestrel, a synthetic hormone that is the main component in the female pill. Desogestrel stopped the production of sperm in men in much the same way it prevents ovulation in women.

CNN's Eileen O'Connor reports on the contraceptive

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At the same time, each of the men received an implant injection of two 200-milligram testosterone pellets at the start of the treatment and again 12 weeks later. The men were instructed to continue using their normal mode of contraception. At the end of 16 weeks, all men in the 300 microgram group had experienced a complete suppression of sperm production.

Eleven men volunteered for an additional 24 week extension phase, continuing daily oral doses of desogestrel and the testosterone implants at 12 week intervals. No other method of contraception was used during the extension period. All 11 men completed the extension phase and their sperm production levels remained at zero. There were no pregnancies in their partners.

"We're very excited about the success of these studies and we will now start the larger studies needed to find the optimal dose and to provide evidence of effectiveness at large scale. These are expected to take around four years," said Dr. Hans Rekers, assistant medical director of N.V. Organon, a pharmaceutical company in the Netherlands that manufactures the pill used in the study.

After discontinuing desogestrel, sperm concentrations in all of the men returned to pre-study levels within 16 weeks. Only minor side effects were reported in a few men, including acne, mood swings, elevated blood pressure, an increase in appetite and weight gain.

Rekers says large-scale studies are scheduled to begin by the end of the year, and the male contraceptive, which should be available by 2005, could come in pill form or in the form of an implant.

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University of Edinburgh Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Population Council
AVSC International
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

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