Campus researchers conceive natural alternative to birth control

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Mikaela Raphael/File

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A team of UC Berkeley researchers recently discovered a natural alternative to current contraceptives, which can potentially cause side effects for both women and men, according to a campus press release.

Researchers in the campus’s department of molecular and cell biology at the Lishko Lab discovered two plant extracts, which can block hyperactivism in sperm.

The chemical compounds found in thunder god vine and aloe vera have been found to stop the sperm’s power kick, according to the press release. Although the chemical plant compounds block fertilization at low doses, they have been revealed to be highly effective.

“We are convinced that such a contraceptive would be a great alternative because so far they turn out to be nontoxic,” said Nadja Mannowetz, the assistant project scientist at the Lishko Lab.

According to the press release, researchers at the Lishko Lab tested three hormones — testosterone, estrogen and cortisol — all of which are found in both females and males. Unlike many current contraceptives, however, the plant compounds do not react as hormones, so there would be no hormonal side effects according to Mannowetz.

Unfortunately, isolating the natural compounds from the plants, Mannowetz said, is a costly process. In order to develop a more affordable alternative, the Lishko Lab has decided to collaborate with researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They hope to synthetically manufacture the chemical extract called triterpenoids, which would perform the same natural effects of aloe vera and the thunder god vine.

If successful, the synthetically manufactured plant compounds would continue to provide a natural and hormonal side effect free alternative to current contraceptives.

Former Lishko Lab manager and UCSF clinical research coordinator Jared Rosen said although the first birth control pill was created in the 1960s, nearly 60 years later, most of the burdens regarding contraceptives are “dumped … on women.” He added that society should come up with more egalitarian forms of contraception, as male contraceptives currently remain limited.

According to the campus press release, the contraceptive could also serve as an emergency dose which could be taken both before or after intercourse. It may also be used as a permanent contraceptive for both genders in the form of a patch or a vaginal ring for females.

Researchers at the Lishko Lab found inspiration to conduct this research from the book “Anti-Fertility Plants of the Pacific,” which documents holistic traditional medicinal practices, according to Mannowetz.

The book contains botanical information on traditional anti-fertility and fertility methods commonly practiced in Pacific Island societies. The group hopes to develop safe unisex contraceptives, while improving human reproductive health, according to the Lishko Lab website.

Polina Lishko’s husband Yuriy Kirichok was the first person to properly study the electrophysiology of the sperm, Rosen said. His study became a key way of channeling chemical levels in sperm cells.

Lishko since started her own lab, Rosen added, and continues to collaborate with other researchers in order to further understand biological problems.

Contact Connie Meza at [email protected].

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