Distant prospects for genomic contraceptives

25 October 2007

Researchers presented work at the recent American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference on the use of RNA interference (RNAi) as a contraceptive tool (see BBC news). There is general interest in producing alternatives to the contraceptive pill as novel forms of birth control, particularly because the hormonal-based pills have unwanted side-effects in some women, and are contraindicated in others, such as those at increased risk of deep-vein thrombosis.

The new method is based on using RNA complementary to that produced to allow expression of a gene active in egg cells just prior to ovulation; blocking expression of the gene is said to prevent the formation of the egg cell’s outer membrane, to which sperm cells must bind in order to allow conception. However, thus far the technique has only been developed in mice, and trials in humans are a very long way off. Moreover, it is not yet known what the side-effects of this application of RNAi might be.

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