Press release

Dundee contraception research bolstered by funding award

Published on 10 October 2023

Ground-breaking research into new forms of contraception have been boosted significantly with new support.

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Researchers at the University of Dundee’s Schools of Medicine and Life Sciences have received $4.4 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help discover potential contraceptives that work by affecting the sperm once they have entered the female reproductive system.

“Our ultimate aim is to produce a non-hormonal contraceptive for women, improving contraceptive choice, particularly for those in low and middle income countries” said Professor Chris Barratt of the School of Medicine. 

“We have a unique capability here at Dundee, to collaborate between drug discovery, phenotypic screening and our knowledge of reproductive medicine. Having that in the same space gives us great scope to make advancements.”

Data suggest that between 2015-19, there were 121 million unintended pregnancies, with women living in the world’s poorest regions nearly three times as likely to fall pregnant unintentionally, in comparison to those in the wealthiest regions. However, the urgent need to develop further forms of contraception have previously been hampered by the relatively poor understanding of human sperm biology and the absence of an efficient system to screen the effects of potential drug compounds on sperm activity.

Jason Swedlow, Professor of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology, added, “We really know very little about how sperm cells work. It is technically very challenging to develop potential new drugs which affect sperm. To do this we have had to develop new ways to measure the effects of compounds on sperm.”

The University of Dundee is unique in its ability to study this matter, bringing together some of the world’s leading experts in reproductive medicine, drug discovery, mechanism of action and cell biology. The Dundee team has received three years of funding from the Gates Foundation to continue its work, building on a previous round of funding awarded in 2021.

Ian Gilbert, Head of the Drug Discovery Unit, said, “A project of this complexity cannot be undertaken without the extensive, collaborative capability that exists here at Dundee. We all contribute our unique skillsets, and all of the key decisions are decided between us. This is hugely complex work, and to have such a broad range of input is hugely advantageous.”


Jonathan Watson

Senior Press Officer

+44 (0)1382 381489