• Immunocontraception;
  • industry;
  • gametes;
  • zona pellucida

Contraception has been practiced for thousands of years. Nevertheless, it took until the late 1950s and early 1960s before a major breakthrough in contraceptive technology was achieved by the introduction of oral hormonal contraceptives. However, we have not succeeded in the development of a non-hormonal contraceptive that is comparable to the pill regarding its efficacy, safety, and acceptance. The immunological interference with the complex fertilization process is a very attractive target in this respect, whereby the zona pellucida, a non-cellular surrounding of all mammalian eggs, represents a potentially ideal target. Another interesting target are sperm: either for the development of a female contraceptive or for a male contraceptive, although the latter approach does not look very promising so far. In conclusion, given the enormous impact on mankind of a growing world population and given the very individual needs for contraceptive methods of different women in one and the same country and in different cultures we should make widely available a whole set of suitable, adjusted methods of fertility control and this includes the search for an effective method of male fertility control.

CONCLUSIONS: The desire for fertility control is most likely as old as the existence of human societies. It is not a need which was formulated in today's world. There are proofs that contraceptives have been produced for thousands of years. However, it took until the 5th and 6th decade of this century before the method of oral hormonal contraception was introduced as a breakthrough in fertility control. Until now there has been no single method of fertility control that has reached an acceptance rate of 22–40%, both in terms of safety and efficacy as is the case for the oral hormonal contraceptives in different countries in the world. Since planning of fertility, planning of sexual life, and conscious elaboration of an individual and independent life style is a major element in human life, it is of utmost importance that different means for different situations, for different times, and for different ages are being offered for fertility control. Therefore innovation in the field of fertility control is needed. This statement is particularly important in view of the fact that innovation has been rather poor in this field over the last decades. Immunocontraception might be such a new promising approach, although a very risky one9. This interpretation addresses general toxicology but especially reversibility of the infertile status. Therefore, a very careful risk-benefit analysis has to be performed once an immunology-based contraceptive method is available. Industrial and academic research should not be afraid of taking the risk to seek such new methods. Another aspect that can be derived from the history of contraception and from the current needs of contraception is that thinking about new contraceptives, including immunological approaches, should never mean different developments for the countries of the first world and for the countries of the third world. Such an approach has not been a strategy in the past and cannot be a strategy for the future. Multiplicity of methods, a variety of options directed towards the needs of the women and their families, is the rational behind looking both in academic science and in industrial research for new contraceptive methods.