In Vitro Infertilization

November 4, 2009

I don’t know about you, but my birth control experience isn’t satisfying unless I can be confident that my own immune system will be used to destroy my ability to harbor new life. Enter the promising up-and-coming antifertility vaccines, some of which target either the infamous pregnancy-sustaining hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) or the libidinous hypothalamic henchman known as gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) (Talwar, Vyas, Perswani & Gupta, 2009). Essentially, these vaccines work by stimulating your immune system to wipe these endogenous hormones from your system. Without these hormones, becoming pregnant or maintaining pregnancy is impossible. Furthermore, since cancerous cells can develop fun party tricks like hormone production and secretion, some cancerous cells (such as certain T-cell leukemias) are known to produce GnRH and/or hCG. Antibodies that target these hormones seem to help neutralize some of these cancers. Prostate growth is also stimulated by GnRH, and phase I/II clinical in Austria and India show atrophy of the prostate and improvement of prostate cancer in vaccinated patients.

As far as I can tell, interest in an antifertility vaccine began in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Significant gains were made in the ’70s and ’80s, and much of the work on the actual hCG/GnRH vaccines seems to have been done by various members of a small team of researchers out of India headed by our good friend G. Talwar (cited above.) If clinical trials continue to go well, Mr. Talwar’s baby (no pun intended) may live to see the light of the free market within the next five or ten years.

Objections to the vaccine are obvious: Groups or governments will abuse the vaccine;  vaccines  treat pregnancy like a disease; the vaccine is intended to impact populations and therefore supports a woman-blaming approach to population control; the H1N1 vaccine is actually the antifertility vaccine; since hCG is produced by a fertilized egg, the vaccine kills babies; babies conceived despite vaccination may be harmed by the antibodies; etc.

Some concerns are valid, though women’s advocacy groups will be happy to know that researchers are also making progress on an anti-sperm vaccine as well (Naz, 2009). And the rather one-sided focus on the cautionary arguments overshadows the possibility that this technology will be of enormous use in battling cancer and inexpensively, harmlessly controlling animal populations (Fayrer-Hosken, 2008). Still, one wonders whether the forty years worth of immunocontraceptive funding would have been better spent supporting sociopolitical and economic liberation of women and girls, or efforts aimed at environmental health and sustainability. Perhaps. Perhaps not. It takes more time and money to tackle population control by addressing overarching global problems like inequality, poverty, cultural and social rot, and systematic poisoning of the planet than it does to teach my immune system to bounce  any pesky hCG-secreting embryos hoping to get into my hot uterine nightclub.