Sonicating sperm: The future of male contraception

Researchers from the University of North Carolina, School of Medicine have successfully tested ultrasound treatment to reduce sperm counts in rats to levels that would cause infertility in men. They used commercially available therapeutic ultrasound equipment, with which they tested the effects of different frequencies, temperatures and duration of ultrasound treatment on the sperm count. The results are published in the journal Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology.

The first report of the effect of ultrasound on germ cells and fertility was produced back in the seventies, by Mostafa Fahim and colleagues at the University of Missouri at Columbia. The aim of the current study was to determine the effect of currently available ultrasound equipment and if this technology could be used as the basis for a male contraceptive in the future. Their findings show an optimal result with two consecutive ultrasound treatments at 3 MHz, 2.2 Watt per square centimeter, for a duration 15 minutes, at a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius when the sperm count in the rat model dropped to a level that would cause infertility in men.

Advantages of ultrasound are the non-invasive nature of the treatment and its efficacy. However, at this moment not much is know of the long-term therapeutic prospects and side-effects of this treatment. In any case, this research has presented ultrasound as a potential basis for male contraceptive in the future and we will have to wait on the results of research to confirm this. And to guard your male fertility in the meantime, make sure your groin stays clear of ultrasound transducers.

Ultrasound’s potential as a male contraceptive was first reported nearly 40 years ago. However, the equipment used at that time is now outdated and no longer available. UNC researchers used these experiments as a starting point to see if modern ultrasound equipment usually used for physical therapy could be used as a male contraceptive.

The team, led by James Tsuruta, PhD, found that by rotating high frequency (3MHz) ultrasound around the testes they were able to cause uniform depletion of germ cells through the testes.

“Unlike humans, rats remain fertile even with extremely low sperm counts. However, our non-invasive ultrasound treatment reduced sperm reserves in rats far below levels normally seen in fertile men. However, further studies are required to determine how long the contraceptive effect lasts and if it is safe to use multiple times,” Tsuruta said.

The best results were seen using two sessions consisting of 15 minutes ultrasound, two days apart. Saline was used to provide conduction between the ultrasound transducer and skin, and the testes were warmed to 37 degrees centigrade. Together this reduced sperm to a Sperm Count Index of zero (3 million motile sperm per cauda epididymis).

The World Health Organization has defined oligospermia (low sperm concentration) as less than 15 million sperm per milliliter. Ninety-five percent of fertile men have more than 39 million sperm in their ejaculate.
Source:http://news.unchealthcare.org/news/2012/january/sonicating-sperm-the-future-of-male-contraception

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