The Pill for Men?

Someday, if women toast the discovery of male oral contraceptives, they may want to lift a glass to Emory biology professor Steven L'Hernault and his worms.

L’Hernault, chair of Emory College’s Department of Biology, researched sperm proteins (not male hormones) in nematode worms. He and fellow researchers were able to establish a connection between fertilization in mammals, including humans, and nematodes. It was a highly unexpected outcome, given the two animal groups last shared a common ancestor about a billion years ago.

The conclusion, which some think could eventually lead to the equivalent of “the pill” for men, provides new insights on the basic mechanics of sperm and egg fertilization. It was recently reported in the journal Current Biology.

“At the end of the day, fertilization in humans seems to share some fundamental features with fertilization in worms,” L’Hernault says. “Specifically, a similar protein is found on the sperm surface in humans and worms and, if a drug could be discovered that interfered with its function, we might be able to prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg.

“The worm may offer an inexpensive way to find such a drug,” he adds. “Women have borne more than their fair share in that category of contraception, so the idea is to look at what might be possible for men.”

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