An Oklahoma City scientist's unexpected discovery may someday lead to a non-hormonal birth control pill for men. Dr. Kevin Moore was studying enzymes related to an inflammatory molecule when he recognized that a missing enzyme affects fertility.
"It's funny,” Moore said. "But this is why you do research. To find things that are unexpected.”
Moore is a scientist at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, where in 1998 he identified two closely related enzymes called tyrosylprotein sulfotransferases (TPST) 1 and 2. He and his lab team realized that mice that lacked the TPST-2 enzyme were infertile. After performing fertility tests much like those a human couple might undergo, Moore realized that the mice's sperm that lacked the enzyme were not bonding with mice's eggs.
The discovery offered long-sought clues to the mechanism or biochemical reason for sperm binding to an egg, Moore said.
The observation begged the question: Would men who lacked the same enzyme also be infertile?
"The rationale there is that the humans have these enzymes as well, and they're 96 percent identical to the mouse enzymes and so that indicates that they may have very similar targets,” Moore said.
Side effects feared
A male contraceptive based on enzyme function could be a better male birth control method than hormone-based versions that are in testing, Moore said, because it would likely come with fewer and less dramatic side effects.