Birth control methods typically work in one of two ways. The first is via physical obstruction, and the second is through manipulation of biological systems. Now researchers at OHSU are developing a new female contraceptive that combines both.
By Linda Baker
Birth control methods typically work in one of two ways. The first is via physical obstruction, such as the diaphragm or condom. The second is through manipulation of biological systems, such as “The Pill.” Now researchers at OHSU’s Oregon Natural Primate Research Center are developing a new female contraceptive that combines the mechanical operations of the former with the biological advances of the latter. The technique, which inhibits enzymes responsible for the release of an egg, is low impact and more foolproof, says ONPRC scientist Jon Hennebold. “Think of enzymes as the molecular scissors that cut the proteins that make up the structure of the follicle,” he says. Neutralize that process with a drug, and the egg stays in the follicle, preventing fertilization. Hormonal forms of birth control such as the pill involve daily medication and health risks such as cardiovascular disease. But the new method, which zeroes in on a specific physical target — the follicle —doesn’t require such stringent regimens and has fewer health impacts, says Hennebold, adding that the long-term research goal is to develop an oral delivery system. And where does the “oocyte” that is never released go? Not to worry, says Hennebold. “The egg is eventually consumed by the ovary itself.”