The process takes about 15 minutes. A doctor injects a tiny dot of a synthetic gel into the sperm-carrying tube just outside of each testicle. Once injected, the gel sets in the tube and acts like a filter, allowing fluid to pass through but not sperm."Like water might percolate through Jello," said Elaine Lissner, director of the Parsemus Foundation.
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This isn't like a Depo-Provera shot you have to get once every few months either—once injected, the sperm-filtering gel would remain in place for 10 years. If the recipient decides he wants to take a shot at having kids at any point in between, all it takes is another injection of sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda) to dissolve the liquid, and the sperm factory becomes operational again.It may sound too good to be true, but clinical and animal trials in India have shown that the method works with near-perfect results and no serious side effects. And unlike the birth control pill and condoms, which have a real-life efficacy rate far lower than the 'perfect use' scenarios advertised on the packages, the birth control injection, like an IUD, comes with virtually no room for human error.
There have been no reports, in animal or human trials, of it not working, however, except for one participant in an Indian clinical trial who reported that his wife became pregnant after he was injected. (This was attributed to improper injection, but it's not outside of the realm of possibility that his wife became impregnated by someone else.)I did find one paper that listed some components of the polymer compounds in RISUG and Vasalgel as having been previously classified as carcinogenic because of effects observed in freak chemical factory accidents, but the amounts those people were exposed to were way larger than what's used in the injection.
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Perhaps the best reason to be skeptical of RISUG and Vasalgel from a scientific standpoint rests on a cultural factor: guys generally don't want to talk about their balls with doctors. Getting them to follow up one, five, 10 years after the procedure is hard, and has been preventing researchers from collecting adequate data to prove to regulatory bodies that it works.
"I don't actually think it's a patriarchal plot that's stopping it at this point. I think it's money. It takes a lot of money."
"Technical and Medical problems have been resolved and there is adequate funding. So at present there are no problems," Guha told LadyBits in an email. When it comes to why the phase III trials have lasted so long, he stressed the standards of safety in India and the importance of following up with trial participants 10 years after the initial injection. "India does not go for slip shod method of moving ahead without reported pre clinical and clinical study results open to international scrutiny just to gain limelight and commercial benefits [sic].""Slip shod" or otherwise, Parsemus is giving hope to thousands of people who want Vasalgel; currently there are 22,000 men on the waiting list for clinical trials, according to Lissner."We're not in touch with Dr. Guha or clear with where he stands," Lissner said. "I hope he's making progress. Either way you get to a solution, the world wins."According to Lissner, the majority of inquiries about Vasalgel come from people in their 20s— men looking for more control over their reproductive future, and women having problems with the available methods. The most vocal group of all, she said, is "the young men on the dating market who are concerned about an 'oops' with a condom or the pill. "I think as far as what's holding things back, it's definitely the idea that men 20 years ago weren't interested. And maybe men 20 years ago weren't. But men today sure are," she said.In May, the Parsemus Foundation is slated to release data from a Vasalgel study conducted on baboons. It intends to run a crowdfunding campaign this summer, and hopes to begin clinical trials early 2016. Though a smattering of articles from September 2014 hyped a 2017 launch for consumer availability of Vasalgel, Hamlin said that realistically, it'll be more like 2020.If it ever reaches shelves at all."Nobody has pulled up the scale of money and the focus to finish it," Lissner said. Even if Vasalgel trials are successful, it remains unclear who's going to make the male birth control injection for the rest of the world outside of the US and India. If the drug does appear in the next five years, maybe the humanitarian foundations will be compelled to step up.Personally, I look forward to a future where the majority of guys are card-carrying members of the injection club—a world where teen pregnancy wouldn't be the large-scale life-ruiner it is today, and women wouldn't be forced to pump themselves full of hormones or undergo dangerous surgical procedures to ensure their continued childlessness. With some interesting innovations on the condom front up ahead, sex would be better and more worry-free than ever. Until then, we're stuck with the same roulette wheel of birth control methods, even though we've had an answer for more than 30 years.This article is part of Bodies of the Future, a collaboration between Motherboard and LadyBits. Follow LadyBits on Twitter and Facebook.
Vasalgel is now estimated to be on the market by 2020