Therapeutic ultrasound could be used as a contraceptive method for men  (Source:
The method worked, but more research is needed to see how long infertility lasts

There are many ways to prevent conception, from temporary methods like condoms and birth control pills to more permanent techniques like a vasectomy. Now, researchers have found that ultrasound could finally be a noninvasive and effective addition to the list of contraceptive practices.

Dr. James Tsuruta, leader of the study from the Department of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, along with Dr. David Sokal of Family Health International and Dr. Min Wang of the University of Missouri, successfully used ultrasound on men as a form of contraception.

The team was able to do this by testing the method on rats. The rat testes were placed in a cup of saline, and using rotating high frequency ultrasound at 3 MHz on the testes for two, 15-minute sessions at two days apart, the testes were warmed to 37 degrees centigrade.

As it turns out, this method was effective in turning off the production of sperm. The sperm was reduced to a Sperm Count Index of zero. It worked because the testes need to be a bit cooler than the rest of the body in order to produce sperm correctly. Therapeutic ultrasound, which is used to heat joints in order to increase circulation, is an enhanced type of heat effect that warms the testes in such a way that it stops correct sperm production.

The only problem with this particular study is that it could not be funded long enough to tell when (if at all) fertility returned, although two or three months is the estimated time. Thankfully, other research teams around the globe took part in separate studies to show that ultrasound does work, and not only in rats. For instance, the Paresmus Foundation, a funder for the male contraceptive movement, which also funded Tsuruta's study, provided money to researchers at the University of California - Davis to perform the same study on monkeys. According to lead UC Davis researcher Dr. Catherine VandeVoort, they were able to successfully use ultrasound as a contraceptive in monkeys after three 30-minute sessions, which were two days apart. However, the process was a long and difficult one.

"We were pretty discouraged at first," said VandeVoort. "The monkeys didn't seem to mind the treatment a bit, but we were having a rough time of it. Thirty minutes of treatments three times a week is a lot of monkey testicular massage. We felt pretty silly, and it didn't help when the techs would come around and wonder what kind of research we were doing. We were relieved when we finally saw an effect."

Despite the trying and somewhat odd research, the UC Davis was the one team that was able to show that ultrasound contraceptive was reversible, which is important since many believed it may be an irreversible method. For instance, Dr. Raffaella Leoci, a veterinary researcher from the University of Bari in Italy, paid close attention to the previous two ultrasound studies from the U.S. and applied the method to stray dogs in Italy. After Monday-Wednesday-Friday sessions at five minutes a piece, the method worked, but still showed no signs of reversibility.

"As luck has it, we're the only ones who can show that ultrasound can be reversible," said Dr. Ted Tollner, a member of the UC Davis team. "The UNC team's rat study has the numbers, and they have beautiful histology data showing what's going on inside the testes. The Italian team was first to publish and showed ultrasound could be very effective in a large animal, not just rats. Together with our results showing the possibility of reversibility along with effectiveness in the closest animal to humans, it makes a pretty compelling package."

This isn't the first time ultrasound has been considered as contraceptive. The idea came about in 1975 when Dr. Mostafa Fahim of the University of Missouri effectively showed the effectiveness of ultrasound contraception in dogs, cats, rats, monkeys and eight human men. His partner in the project was Dr. Min Wang, who participated in the recent UNC study. However, Fahim's findings were later cancelled out by a more reputable researcher, Ronald L. Urry, who couldn't reproduce the findings. It was later discovered that Urry used different approaches than Fahim.

While ultrasound could be a viable option for those seeking alternatives to traditional contraception, more research is needed to see if fertility returns, and for how long after treatment. Therapeutic ultrasound is already in use, which would make the method easy to deploy, but more information could absolutely put the technique on the map soon.

The UNC study was published in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology.

Sources: Eurekalert, Eurekalert

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