Experts say they are “very excited” by a breakthrough in stem cell research that could pave the way for a new way to prevent or delay fertilization in the future.
Researchers at the University of Queensland have identified a drug that prevents fertilization and is being tested in a series of clinical trials.
The drug, which is also being tested to treat other conditions such as kidney problems and blood pressure, is currently being tested by the Queensland National Centre for Human Genetics, which also runs the state’s only stem cell centre in the city of Brisbane.
Dr Simon Grieve, the centre’s director, said the drug was a first step in a process of developing a new approach to fertilization that would eventually result in a more effective treatment for infertility.
He said the new approach could ultimately lead to a new therapy that would be more effective than current methods, such as IVF and in vitro assisted reproduction.
Dr Grieve said the Queensland centre had conducted more than 100 clinical trials with different stem cell therapies, and found they were effective for all conditions.
He told the ABC the new drug was being tested for a range of conditions including kidney problems, blood pressure and infertility.
“It’s a very promising area of research,” he said.
“What’s interesting about it is it’s in a different class of drug and it’s not a synthetic drug, so it’s completely different from any other treatment that we have in the world.”
The drug was first developed in the 1990s by the University’s medical school and was initially tested in mice.
However, Dr Grieve noted it was not until last year that researchers could successfully use it in human patients.
“I think we’ve just been able to demonstrate the drug works in mice,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
“So we’re very excited by that.”
The Queensland centre is also conducting trials with a number of other stem cell treatments, including a treatment that would prevent sperm from developing in the womb, which would make it easier for a woman to get pregnant.
Dr Robert Brantley, a stem cell expert from the University College of Queensland, said he was not surprised by the breakthrough.
“We’ve had these great advances in human fertility, but what we’ve also seen is that there’s still a lot of work to do,” Dr Brant, who was not involved in the research, said.
The new drug, called diclofenac, was tested in the mice.
It has been shown to be able to block the development of sperm in the mouse uterus, and prevent the formation of spermatozoa (eggs) in the woman’s uterus.
“The first thing you notice is the fertilization of the eggs and then there’s this thickening of the lining of the uterus,” Dr Grieved said.
He explained that the drug could also prevent sperm that were injected into the uterus from being fertilised.
“This has the potential to prevent the fertilisation of the sperm in a woman’s womb,” Dr Brian said.
“It can stop them from becoming fertilised in the uterus.”
The University of Brisbane is also testing a test in women with ovarian cancer that would block sperm from fertilising eggs in the female body.
Dr Brant said the study was not designed to see if the drug would work in men, but he was excited to see the drug being tested with men.
“There’s a lot more research that needs to be done,” he noted.
“And it’s a big leap forward from just mice and one test in a few weeks.”
But it’s something that’s definitely exciting.
“Dr Bruntley said it was difficult to tell whether the drug, if used in men would result in better fertility in the long term.”
Dr Grie said the findings of the study would help pave the path towards a new treatment for male infertility.”
We’ll have to do a more comprehensive study with men to see whether it’s really working in that population.”
Dr Grie said the findings of the study would help pave the path towards a new treatment for male infertility.
Dr Peter Dittrich, a fertility expert at the Centre for Disease Control in the US, said it would be a “real game-changer” if the Queensland study was successful.
“If it works in men then we will have a better understanding of the role that these hormones play in human disease and it will lead to better treatments and treatments that are not based on hormones,” Dr Dittrough said.