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Biomedical Research Centre cardio lead awarded £100,000 Gates Foundation Grant for novel contraceptive method

Serendipity and lateral thinking led a team of scientists in Manchester and Bonn to develop what may prove to be a revolutionary form of unisex contraception.

The discovery, which was made by Prof. Ludwig Neyses and his colleagues at Bonn University, has now been awarded a £100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Innovative Global Health Research from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (www.gatesfoundation.org).

Originally, Prof Neyses, a clinical research lead at Manchester Royal Infirmary and lead for cardiovascular medicine at the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, was conducting experiments using mice to research methods of preventing heart failure in humans.  He deleted the mouse gene which codes for a calcium pump in the heart as well as in other tissues such as the testis.

The mice that underwent the treatment were perfectly healthy but did not produce litters and further investigation revealed that the sperm of the male mice was immobile and so it could not fertilise the eggs of the females. 
The scientists then reasoned that a small molecule that inhibits the calcium pump might be adapted to create a new type of contraception, which does not rely on using hormones to control fertility. No such molecule was available and the team therefore set out to identify such an inhibitor.

In collaboration with researchers at the Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre, including Prof. Doug Kell, Drs. Farid Khan, Paul Dobson and Yogendra Patel, they went on to identify a first such molecule which serves as proof-of-principle for this novel approach. Dr Sunita Jones from The University of Manchester's Intellectual Property commercialisation company  (UMIP) provided commercialisation support and advice including assistance in writing the winning grant application.  The compound's efficacy is being tested by renowned scientists Ulrich Kaupp and Timo Struenker at the 'CAESAR' (Max-Planck) Institute in Bonn.

Prof. Neyses has been awarded the Grand Challenges Explorations Grant to further develop the technology. Grand Challenges Explorations is an initiative which aims to help scientists around the world explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve health in developing countries. In this fifth round of funding more than 2,400 applications were received and 65 grants were finally awarded to scientists in 16 countries on five continents.
A vaginal contraceptive gel which combines the novel inhibitor with state-of-the art microparticles, has been developed by Nicola Tirelli, Professor of Biomaterials at The  University of Manchester. These particles have special adhesive properties and are cheap to produce, making them highly attractive for use in poorer countries. 
"The Foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations programme offers researchers the chance to win an initial $100,000 and later $1 million grants to foster innovative projects that could transform health in developing countries," explained Prof Neyses.

"We are very excited that our discovery could lead to the development of a new form of contraception which is cheap to produce and has no side effects.  Women would just need to apply the gel once a month to obtain long-lasting protection against pregnancy. In future, a pill containing such a pump inhibitor could be used for non-hormonal contraception in both sexes providing opportunities for contraception by both partners." 
Dr Tachi Yamada, President of the Gate's Foundation's Global Health Program, said: "These are bold ideas from innovative thinkers, which is exactly what we need in global health research right now. I'm excited to see some of these daring projects develop into life-saving breakthroughs for those who need them the most."


Notes to editors
The NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre was created by the National Institute for Health Research in 2008 to effectively move scientific breakthroughs from the laboratory, through clinical trials and into practice within hospitals to improve patient care. As a partnership between Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and The University of Manchester, the Biomedical Research Centre is designated as a specialist centre of excellence in genetics and developmental medicine. www.manchesterbrc.org
For further information please contact Kate Henry, Communications & Public Relations Manager, on 0161 276 3281 / 07825 142219 or email: kate.henry@cmft.nhs.uk