IPN scientist develops a natural contraceptive

By Fernanda Duque Hernández

Rafael Silva used compounds from a succulent to create a spermicide that has no secondary effects

It took 15 years of research but Rafael Silva Torres, a scientist from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN), finally got the patent on an organic compound he isolated to elaborate a natural contraceptive with high effectiveness and no secondary effects.

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The researcher used one of the many compounds found in the Mexican plant sedum praealtum –a type of succulent commonly known as ‘green cockscomb’ – to create a safe, low cost and completely natural spermicide.

Once he identified the compound, he synthetized the chemical substance in order to start the necessary clinical tests.

Silva Torres explained that the use of plants as contraception is not uncommon, since there is plenty of evidence in the scientific literature that some plants from India – like the Azadirachta indica and the Sapindus mukorossi – possess spermicidal characteristics.

2Original image: “Sedum praealtum, Siempre Viva, Mexican Bush Sedum”, by Seán A. O’Hara, license: CC BY 2.0, vía Flickr

In fact, in the Mexican States of Morelosand Guerrero, some communities use infusions of the green cockscomb as a method to prevent pregnancy. It was precisely this which caught his scientific attention that, after studying the plant, confirmed its effectiveness.

Moreover, he discovered that the plant possesses at least 50 active ingredients, which made quite a challenge the isolation of the spermicidal compound that was identified through various processes of chromatography with different organic solvents.

“What caught the attention of the scientific community is that, the higher the concentration of the compound the fewer possibilities of pregnancy the lab rats presented, coming to a point in which the sperm viability is completely null and there’s no possibility of gestation,” Rafael Silva said, “However, even when the concentration of the compound was high, but still with possibilities of pregnancy, the offspring was born healthy and without malformations.”

1Original image: Press release 579 of theInstituto Politécnico Nacional(IPN)

This proves to be a significant improvement over the usual current contraceptive methods that present some difficulties to willful parents-to-be, who sometimes face health problems in their babies due to a continuous use of contraception pills.

Rafael Silva Torres shares the patent with doctor Delfina Ramos Zamora, who collaborated with the project during the 15 years it took to realize, due to lack of resources.

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