Rio – The device designed by German designer Rebecca Weiss, in partnership with American researchers, could become one of the few male contraceptives. Called Coso, it was designed to give an ultrasound “bath” to the testicles and thus impede sperm motility. The prototype won the National Design Award from the James Dyson Awards.
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The kozu acts as a small bathtub for home use in which the man places his testicles every two months to prevent the movement of the male gametes responsible for reproduction and thus prevent them from reaching and fertilizing the egg.
The procedure is provided by ultrasound.
– The principle is very interesting, it makes the tail of the sperm lose the ability to move. It’s an old idea, successfully tested on animals, and could theoretically work in humans — says Edson Borges, a human reproduction specialist and scientific director of the Fertility Medicine Group in São Paulo.
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The study behind Coso was conducted by researchers in the United States and published in the scientific journal Childbearing and Endocrinology. The experiment, which was conducted on mice, was successful, but officials indicated that more research is needed to release the technology to humans.
Borges highlights, for example, that it is not known how much ultrasound can reduce sperm motility, and whether this decrease will be enough to prevent fertilization.
Coso’s creator hopes the James Dyson Awards, worth €2,000 in the national category and 30,000 in the international category – which was one of the finalists – will help fund clinical trials for final confirmation of the device’s efficacy and approval through regulatory agencies.
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Difficulties with male contraceptives
Since the birth control pill was created in the 1960s, and is used today by more than 214 million women worldwide, scientists have been searching for a method of contraception that works in a similar way and can target men. However, there are two main reasons why this procedure is challenging for medicine, explains Burgess.
The first relates to the production of eggs and sperm. A woman, even before she is born, at the 20th week of pregnancy, has already produced all the eggs that will be released during her lifetime. Thus, the process of ovulation is only responsible for the release of one of these gametes per month.
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Men produce sperm every 75 days, in sufficient quantities that an average of 25 to 200 million gametes are released with each ejaculation.
There is a very large variation in production throughout a man’s life. So, this production dynamics makes it very difficult for contraceptives to work, because every 75 days there is a new set of gametes – the expert explains.
Moreover, the second difficulty concerns the main hormones responsible for reproductive cycles: estrogen and progesterone in the case of women, and testosterone in the case of men.
In the formulation of the female contraceptive pill, a combination of estrogen and progesterone is usually made at a low dose, but it is enough for the woman’s body to realize that it no longer needs to produce them. Thus, there is no longer the amount needed to stimulate ovulation.
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In most cases, taking these daily doses of hormones does not lead to significant side effects that pose risks to a woman’s health. For men, the mechanism of action of testosterone is much broader in the body, and its inhibition provides a series of effects that are considered more serious, such as loss of libido, mood changes, and erectile dysfunction. Borges stresses that the pill that works with this mechanism for men, DMAU, is having difficulties developing tests for precisely these reasons.
However, the expert adds that there is other research looking at different methods of contraception for men. The first, in India, involves injecting a polymer into the vas deferens to block the passage of male gametes. The duct is like a tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the epididymis, where they are stored for later ejaculation.
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The procedure may be like a vasectomy, which involves a permanent blockage of this duct, and can only be reversed by injecting another substance that dissolves the polymer and frees the passage. This method is known as RISUG, also known as Vasalgel and is still being tested.
RISUG is more invasive, but has shown a high rate of effectiveness in trials without having significant side effects.
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