Is the Bimek SLV ‘sperm switch’ the answer to male contraception?
Male contraception is a largely underdeveloped area of reproductive control. When it comes to contraception the responsibility has largely fallen into the hands of women. Short of a vasectomy or condoms, men have limited options.
In 2015 it was announced that there was a new male equivalent of ‘the pill’ being trialled for release. Researchers are also working on male injections to act as contraceptives.
However, these male contraceptives are likely to be years away before they will be deemed safe and widely available. Now another new idea is about to be tested that may provide men with an additional alternative.
Switching sperm ‘on’ and ‘off’
Twenty years ago, German national Clemens Bimek was inspired to develop a male contraception device. A carpenter by trade, Mr. Bimek has created a mechanism that enables temporary sterilisation at the press of a switch.
The “Bimek SLV” was patented in 2000. Mr. Bimek successfully used the device himself in 2009 and has since been refining the design with the help of investors. Now there is approval for a clinical trial. The company is looking for 25 male volunteers to participate in testing the Bimek SLV.
How does the Bimek SLV male contraception device work?
The Bimek SLV is a small device less than an inch long consisting of two valves. It weighs less than three grams.
It is designed to be surgically implanted on the vas deferens. Also referred to as the ductus deferens, the vas deferens is the duct which transports sperm from the testicles to the urethra.
Once the Bimek SLV is implanted, the patient can then access the ‘on-off’ switch beneath the skin of the scrotum. When the valve is activated it closes and diverts sperm out of the ducts and back into the scrotal tissue. This effectively causes sterilisation.
However, unlike a vasectomy, the process can be reversed by turning off the switch.
The animation below produced by the company investing in this technology demonstrates how the Bimek SLV operates:
Will the Bimek SLV work?
There are a lot of unknowns about the Bimek SLV which is causing some doctors to express concern over this technology. Some of the potential issues raised include possible scarring of the vas deferens during implantation. This could stop sperm flow even if the valve is open.
There is also the possibility of blockages within the valve if left closed for too long. Also, how the body reacts to the materials used to make the Bimek SLV is also largely unknown and needs to be considered. It’s also important to remember that this device will not offer protection from sexual transmitted diseases.
Despite concerns, many doctors are also optimistic. One of the advantages of this contraceptive is that’s hormone free. This can stop unwanted side effects from hormonal fluctuations.
If the Bimek SLV is as effective as the developers believe, it may be more reliable than condoms in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Statistics from the United States suggest that the failure rate for condoms is approximately 18% per year[1. “Trussel, J. (2011). Contraceptive failure in the United States. Contraception – an international reproductive health journal, Volume 83, Issue 5, (pp. 397-404).”].
Currently the only reliable male contraceptive (other than abstinence) is a vasectomy. This procedure is rarely successfully reversed. Thus, if there becomes a desire to father children in the future the prospects of this are very slim.
The Bimek SLV may provide men with more control over their fertility.
Those involved in the testing and development of the Bimek SLV are confident that this male contraception device will be available as early as 2018. No doubt many men will be interested in results of the clinical trial scheduled for this year.
We will follow the development and report the findings as soon as they are available.
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Dr. Kooner is Deputy Director of The Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago and has been a Specialist in Fertility Treatment since 1999.
As well as the areas that the clinic specialises in general, he is particularly interested in managing oocyte donation, female same-sex couples, single women having sperm donation and those considering egg freezing.
Dr. Kooner regularly speaks at fertility meetings. He has published in national journals and constantly contributes to the fertility research and publications from Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago.