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Bill Gates backs ball-busting ultrasound

Grant to probe male contraceptive method

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has stumped up $100,000 to fund University of North Carolina research into using ultrasound as a male contraceptive method.

The promising technique simply blasts a chaps' 'nads with ultrasound, stopping sperm production. Once the available supply is exhausted, the man is infertile for up to six months, after which normal service is resumed, without side-effects.

The university's Dr James Tsuruta explained: "We think this could provide men with up to six months of reliable, low-cost, non-hormonal contraception from a single round of treatment.

"Our long-term goal is to use ultrasound from therapeutic instruments that are commonly found in sports medicine or physical therapy clinics as an inexpensive, long-term, reversible male contraceptive suitable for use in developing to first world countries."

The idea of ball-busting sound waves as contraceptive has apparently been knocking around since the 1970s, although it hasn't had much support from the scientific community. Recent research, though, has injected new life into the concept.

In 2007, boffins from the University of Bari showed that the technique was effective on dogs, and lead researcher Raffaella Leoci applauded North Carolina's renewed activity, enthusing: “It's great that many people are working on ultrasound - it will make it easier to get the answers we need.”

Elaine Lissner, of San Francisco's Male Contraception Information Project, cautioned that it still remained to be seen whether repeated ultrasound treatments would affect long-term fertility.

She did, however, say: "The exciting thing is that we're getting started finding out. The smaller foundations don't have the money to get beyond proof of concept - so Gates has really saved the day."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ultrasound grant is one of 78 $100,000 donations announced earlier this week under the Grand Challenges Explorations programme. Dr Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, said: “We are convinced that some of these ideas will lead to new innovations and eventually solutions that will save lives.”

Or, as that should read in the case of North Carolina: “We are convinced that some of these ideas will lead to new innovations and eventually solutions that will prevent lives.” ®

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