Healthwatch: Birth Control Vaccine?

By: Karen Lurie
By: Karen Lurie

Researchers are working on an annual shot that would use a woman's immune system to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Stephanie McEvoy does yoga to calm herself after a day spent parenting her teenage son.

"I feel like raising children is like being pecked to death by a chicken," joked McEvoy.

This frustration, along with other reasons, made her decide not to have more children, so McEvoy uses a birth control patch, but she has to remember to change it on the same day every week.

"You're not supposed to forget to change the patch," McEvoy said.

Now, Peter Sutovsky, a reproductive biologist, is creating a more convenient form of birth control that works like a flu shot. As reported in Discover Magazine, the shot blocks fertilization using the immune system, not hormones. So far, he's used it in a lab with eggs and sperm from pigs.

"It does not affect hormonal levels, for instance, which I believe is very important especially with regard to possible side effects of altering hormonal levels in the body," said Sutovsky of the University of Missouri.

Normally, a sperm fertilizes an egg after bursting a cap on its head, releasing molecules that eat a hole through the egg's protective coating. Then, one sperm pushes inside through the hole.

Sutovsky envisions an injection that would trigger the body's immune system to disable those sperm molecules so they can't break into the egg.

"Maybe a good analogy would be if you drop a little drop of acid on a wooden table. If the acid is neutralized it wouldn't do any damage," said Sutovsky.

Nevertheless, McEvoy said she has her doubts.

"Sometimes when you get a flu shot you get flu symptoms. If there were even a remote chance that I would be nauseas for a year I wouldn't take that medicine," said McEvoy.

The shot doesn't disturb hormonal levels, so Sutovsky says he believes there won't be side effects, but years of research are ahead. Meanwhile, McEvoy continues to put up with the patch.

For more details, visit www.sciencentral.com

Read all previous WTOK Healthwatch articles here.


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