British couple among first in world to trial male contraceptive gel

Sarah Young

A British man is among the first in the world to trial a new male contraceptive gel.

James Owers, 29, and his girlfriend Diana Bardsley, 27, from Edinburgh have volunteered to take part in the study, which is being led in the UK by Saint Mary’s Hospital, part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, and the University of Edinburgh.

The international trial is studying the effectiveness of the hormone gel, called NES/T, by analysing 450 couples who have agreed to use it as their only form of contraception for the next 12 months.

According to researchers, the gel, which is applied topically, uses a combination of progesterone and testosterone which are absorbed through the skin directly into the bloodstream.

While the progesterone stops sperm being produced, the additional testosterone negates the effects of a drop in hormone levels, meaning users should continue to have a normal sex drive.

Participants in the study will have their sperm count checked at regular intervals to ensure the gel is working effectively.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast, Owers explained how he applies the gel, saying: “I squeeze a 50p-piece-size out of the dispenser – the dispenser is a bit like one of those posh toothpaste tubes. It’s got the consistency of hand sanitiser.

“I rub it into my shoulder and pectoral area and that dries in three to four seconds. I do that to the other shoulder and then I get dressed and go about my day as normal.”

The couple have been using the gel since February but only switched to using it exclusively a week ago.

“I’m feeling very, very positive that either this contraceptive or other contraceptives for men will become available,” Owers added.

Meanwhile, Bardsley praised the development of a male contraceptive, explaining that the trial has allowed her to stop using hormonal contraception for the first time since she was 16.

“By giving men more choice we are taking some of the burden off women and allowing men to have more freedom over their own contraceptive method,” Bardsley said.

Dr Cheryl Fitzgerald, who works as a consultant in reproductive medicine at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and is one of the researchers behind the study, said the study was going “very well” but admitted that widespread availabity of a male contraceptive could still be some years away.

“This trial is looking at hundreds of men and looking at them quite closely to check that it’s safe and effective and tolerated well,” Fitzgerald said.

“After that there would be a much bigger trial so we are certainly looking at 10-plus years.”

Earlier this year, scientists revealed that the development of a male contraceptive pill was one step closer to becoming a reality.

In a month-long study of 40 men, conducted by the University of Washington, researchers looked into the effectiveness of a once-daily capsule that aims to suppress levels of hormones which drive the production of sperm and testosterone in the testes.

The doctors found that levels of the hormones fell in men who took the daily capsules, suggesting that their sperm counts had been noticeably reduced.

Stephanie Page, a professor of medicine and co-senior investigator on the trial at the University of Washington in Seattle, said: “The goal is to expand contraceptive options and create a menu of choices for men like we have for women.

“We are neglecting a major potential user population with the limited options currently available to men.”