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New male contraceptive zaps sperm

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A new kind of male contraceptive uses ultrasound technology to 'zap' away sperm counts.

For the sake of limiting the risk of pregnancy, condoms, the male pill and vasectomies could be something of the past.

Researchers are currently working on a new means to lower a man's sperm count -- by using ultrasound technology. Using sound technology in the medical profession isn't a new concept, as it is used to detect fetal growth, repair muscle tissues and to image tumors. However, a recent trial on rats has suggested that ultrasound may also be used as a means to lower sperm counts.

Studies published in the 1970s began to hint at the potential ultrasound technology could have in relation to fertility control. However, it was not taken much further. This new study aims to see whether there is a commercially viable option in using ultrasound as a male contraceptive.

An assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, James Tsuruta, together with his team reported that commonly used doses of ultrasound can lower rats' sperm concentrations to 3 million per milliliter of semen.

Human males are considered infertile if their sperm count is anything less than 15 million sperm per milliliter, according to WHO (the World Health Organisation). In normal conditions, fertile men have at least 39 million sperm when they ejaculate.

"When we treated the rats in the study, it only took two weeks to shut down a process that is essential to the survival of any species," indicted Tsuruta. "Males produce millions of sperm every day. So it's a very, very robust system. To be able to turn that off -- we are really excited to learn how this actually works."

The current findings of the research indicates that treatment works best when delivered two days apart. It was discovered two 15-minute doses were enough to "reduce significantly" the number of sperm-producing cells. High frequency ultrasound (3MHz) is rotated around the testes, which therefore induces uniform reduction of germ cells.

However, it will no doubt be some time before we see men queuing to have their genitalia zapped, as more extensive tests are necessary to determine whether it is a 'safe' method of contraception, and if it can be used multiple times without causing lasting damage to men.

The study is available in the journal of Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology.

Image credit: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure