'Reversible vasectomy' male contraceptive injection being trialled in Australia

Stock image of an injection, needle
The injectable contraceptive is currently being trialled to an "overwhelming response". Photo credit: Getty Images

A urologist leading the trial of a procedure offering a 'reversible vasectomy' using a setting gel says it has received an overwhelming response.

The method is being trialled by researchers at the Epworth Freemasons Hospital in Melbourne, where 25 men injected with the gel are being tracked over three years to determine its efficacy.  

Lead investigator Professor Nathan Lawrentschuk told Checkpoint he expected there would be a big demand for the male contraceptive, given there were currently no alternatives to a conventional vasectomy and the use of condoms.

The hydrogel is injected into the reproductive tube and sets hard, blocking the sperm's course during sexual activity, but dissolves over a period of years, allowing the male user to father children if he so wishes.

"We were somewhat surprised how overwhelming the response has been every time we open up our recruitment portal," Lawrentschuk said. 

"The overwhelming feeling is that a lot of men feel it's about time there was another option available. 

"I certainly believe their partners will be happier that there's other options available, and I also think that ultimately, this puts men in the driver's seat so that, particularly for single men, they can have a bit more certainty and control, and within a couple the burden no longer falls on the female partner to take care of these issues.

"I think there are a lot of men and couples who would actually indeed take this up."

He said hydrogels were used a lot in medicine, particularly in areas of plastic surgery, and they were safe. 

"The technology has improved over the last decade," he said. 

"The gels are injected in quite a liquefied form, but then they tend to firm up and become closer to superglue concentration, but they're fairly inert to the body. Over time, the body has a natural ability to dissolve these gels, such that that's why this can become a temporary procedure."

The procedure is carried out in a similar way to a normal vasectomy and has been performed under general anaesthetic in the Melbourne trials. 

"Hopefully, in the larger marketplace, it would just be a fairly straightforward procedure done under local anaesthetic in the doctor's office, rather than having to even go to a hospital," Lawrentschuk said.

For those unwilling to wait until the gel is dissolved by the body, he says work is currently being undertaken to find a way to make the dissolution faster.

"The next phase in research would be to develop an antidote, if you like, or something that could be injected earlier to dissolve it," he said.