30 March 2007

Bloodless ‘snip’ could soon be in the bag

“Yes, I agree that contraception is as much a man’s responsibility as a woman’s, and I’ve considered having a vasectomy, but I’m terrified..."

“Yes, I agree that contraception is as much a man’s responsibility as a woman’s, and I’ve considered having a vasectomy, but I’m terrified at the idea of a stranger in a blue gown slashing open my trouser furniture.” If this describes you, help may be on the way.

Many blokes feel this way. The “I’d have the snip, but what if the doctor sneezes as he makes the cut?” conversations have gone on in thousands of households around the world for years. Now a less invasive from of vasectomy may be on the way.

The New Scientist reports that scientists at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, have used ultrasound to block the vas deferens - the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles.

This eliminates the need to make the cut in the scrotum to reach the vas deferens, and from then cutting away a section of the vas deferens itself. Until now, the ends of the vas have been cauterized or plugged with bits of silicone.

Compared to say, giving birth or having a caesarian section, the conventional vasectomy isn’t a particularly gruesome or visceral procedure. But it’s hoped the new, non-invasive technique could help men become more willing to accept responsibility for contraception.

The new technique blocks the tubes without making incisions. Here’s how: having located the vas deferens by hand, the tubes are held in place with a clip over a pinched fold of skin – they’re only a few millimetres under the skin. An ultrasonic device built into the clip then emits about five watts of ultrasound for about 40 seconds, heating the vas deferens to more than 50 degrees Celsius. This kills the cells in the wall of the tube, which obstruct the tube. Scar tissue then forms, making the blockage a permanent one.

Accidents while ironing naked

For any bloke who’s howled in anguish after losing concentration while ironing naked, this sounds awful, but the clip would use a water-filled latex balloon to shield the skin from the ultrasound transducer. Pumping cold water through the balloon throughout the procedure would prevent the skin from being burnt.

The curved shape of the clip also focuses the ultrasound – and the heat – on the tubes below the skin – not on the skin itself.

But it’s not just squeamish blokes who might benefit from the procedure. It could prove useful in developing countries where there’s often limited access to trained surgeons and sterile facilities.

Vasectomy is cheaper and easier than female sterilisation and enjoys a higher success rate, with fewer complications. But in the US, where male sterilisation is twice as successful as female ones, twice as many women have sterilisations as men.

So far the procedure has been successfully carried out on dogs. The researchers must now establish that the procedure results in permanent sterilisation.

It’s ironic that a procedure which uses heat is being developed by a specialist named Dr Nathaniel Fried. - (William Smook)

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Potential male contraceptive
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