Researchers found that a chemical from a plant extract, commonly used by African warriors to poison their arrows, can be repurposed as a male contraceptive.
Published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, the study suggests that a chemical called ouabain could inhibit the male reproductive cell. Ouabain is found in two plants native to Africa, the Acokanthera Schimperi also known as the “arrow poison tree” and the Strophanthus Gratus, most commonly known as “climbing oleander”. African warriors tip their arrows with ouabain as it is a toxic substance capable of damaging heart tissue, effectively killing the target.
However, small doses of ouabain can be found in drugs that help control blood pressure and treat heart attack patients. Ouabain was proven to be an effective cardiac glycoside as it can increase the pumping force of the heart all the while lowering the rate of contractions.
A 2014 study claimed that ouabain had the potential to alter male fertility, however, its poisonous nature prevented it from being considered a suitable ingredient for male birth control pills.
Scientists from the University of Minnesota and the University of Kansas wanted to further tests ouabain’s effects on male fertility. Thus, they created a version of ouabain that had a variation of the compound but with a slightly different molecular structure. This altered compound would target a specific protein in sperm that controls its ability to swim. Deactivating the sperm’s ability to swim would make them unable to reach and fertilize an egg.
The team of researchers tested the new ouabain analog on rats and found that the animals were rendered infertile yet their health remained intact. More so, the scientists believe that the effects of ouabain are reversible. Scientists noticed that new sperm cells were not affected once the compound left the rodents’ systems.
The latest discovery may pave the way to a male contraceptive that has the same desired effects of a standard female birth control pill.
Image Source: Flickr
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