July 21, 2008 -- Let's face it: We spend an awful lot of our time waiting. Waiting in bathroom lines. Waiting for that hot Kenneth Cole leather clutch to go on sale at the end of the season. Waiting for a decent Dane Cook movie.
Usually, our patience pays off, the forever unfunny Mr. Cook notwithstanding. But when it comes to some of those promising medical breakthroughs we've been hearing about for the past decade -- uh, birth control for men, anyone? -- we have to wonder: Are we ever gonna see this stuff?
To get some answers, we dished with researchers and other experts to find out what's really going on behind lab doors -- and more important, when we might be able to see some payoff.
Male Birth Control
Here's the scoop: Our ultimate fantasy is to see him pregnant and squeezing out a pumpkin-headed 10-pounder. But for now, we'll settle for shrugging off the burden of daily Pill popping.
European pharmaceutical companies have already created a chemical that suppresses the hormone responsible for sperm production. When frisky male rats were given the drug, they started shooting blanks; when they stopped nibbling their contraceptive-laced cheese, sperm production came back.
More good news: EU researchers have developed a kind of temporary vasectomy. Instead of snipping the tubes that carry sperm to the penis, a doctor implants a clip that pinches them shut. "Think of it as an IUD for men," says Dr. Manny Alvarez, adjunct professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the New York University School of Medicine.
ETA: Five years for the Male Pill. Scientists are working on a human formula, which will go through trials before being submitted for FDA approval. As for the clip in the U.S., look for it in one year: It's currently in human trials to make sure sperm flow returns after the clip is removed.
Here's the scoop: Scientists have been trying to find a cure for HIV/AIDS for more than 25 years, but it's tricky: "Every time the virus is transmitted, it undergoes small changes," says Patricia Fast, chief medical officer at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). This means that no two people are infected with exactly the same strain of HIV, making it nearly impossible to create a universal antidote.
But what if we could prevent people from getting infected altogether? That's the goal of more than 30 human trials being conducted around the world by universities, private labs, governments, and the IAVI.
Because it's not safe to use a vaccine made from a killed or weakened strain of HIV (as scientists do with the flu virus), "study participants are injected with a small, basic component of the virus that is present in every strain," Fast says. That way, your body can learn how to fight it off without your getting sick. Then, if you were exposed to the real thing, your immune system would recognize the virus and knock the crap out of it.
ETA: Unclear. Once a vaccine enters late-stage testing, it takes about five years to determine whether it's likely to succeed. After that, more testing is required before it can be licensed for global use.
Condomless STD Prevention
Here's the scoop: Ribbed or not, condoms don't really exist for anyone's pleasure. But what if you could protect against both rug rats and STDs without a spontaneity-sucking latex barrier? A new gel (brand name: Amphora) coats your vaginal walls, killing STDs on contact but leaving your body's natural bacteria alone. Inserted up to 12 hours before sex with a device that covers the cervix, it does double duty as a contraceptive. Amphora's release will be a banner moment for women worldwide whose partners won't roll on a Trojan: "It will finally put the power to protect against STDs into the woman's hands," says Dr. Alfred Shihata, chief medical officer of Instead, the company testing Amphora.
ETA: Three years. Clinical trials are expected to take up to two more years. If they're successful, an OTC product could get the FDA greenlight by 2011.
Here's the scoop: For 10 years, men have been able to pop a pill and go from limp to lusty. Soon -- fingers crossed -- women may be able to get their own boost from a prescription bottle. The German company Boehringer Ingelheim has developed flibanserin, which works by reducing serotonin at the receptor in the brain responsible for sexual desire. "Serotonin suppresses dopamine, which in turn stimulates arousal," says Dr. Anita Clayton, a professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia. "By decreasing serotonin at that receptor, we'll allow dopamine to emerge and do its thing." So you can do your thing.
ETA: Less than two years. Clinical trials for the pill are slated to be completed by the end of this year, which means it could be reviewed by the FDA in late 2009.
Needle-Free Blood Sugar Test
Here's the scoop: If you're one of the 21 million Americans with diabetes, checking your blood sugar as often as you check your e-mail can be a pain -- literally. A new contact lens could soon replace the finger prick. The lens -- which will also correct poor vision -- contains a photonic crystal that changes color when the glucose level of your tears increases or decreases. One glance in the mirror and you'll know your blood sugar status. "This technology doesn't draw blood, it doesn't cause pain, and it allows you to continually monitor your glucose level," says Sanford Asher, a chemistry professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who is involved in testing the lens.
ETA: Up to four years. "We're gearing up for clinical trials, which could last up to two years," Asher says. FDA approval is expected to take another one to two years.
An Easier Cancer Treatment
Here's the scoop: Though a cure for the Big C is still out of reach, scientists are on track to render the nasty side effects of treatment--fatigue, nausea, hair loss--a thing of the past. "All of the current therapies [chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery] destroy healthy cells along with the cancer cells, which is what causes the side effects," says Dr. Marek Malecki, a professor in South Dakota State University's department of pharmaceutical sciences.
"We're genetically engineering antibodies [proteins that the immune system uses to identify and destroy germs and other foreign objects] to seek out and go after tumors while leaving healthy cells untouched." The antibodies--which are specific to each type of cancer--would be administered through a series of injections. Malecki recently tested the breast and ovarian cancer antibodies on mice, and "so far, it's been successful," he says.
ETA: Three to five years Malecki and his team are preparing to scale up production of the breast and ovarian cancer antibodies for human trials. If results are good, it should be submitted for FDA approval within two years.
Worth the Wait
Medical breakthroughs typically take years--sometimes decades--before they're available to the public. Get a load of the backstory on these historic innovations
Viagra: 7 years
British researchers originally patented the little blue pill in 1991 -- as a heart disease drug. They realized something was up by 1994, when patients started talking about the medicine's surprising perk. The FDA approved it to treat erectile dysfunction on March 27, 1998, also known as the happiest day in Bob Dole's life.
Polio vaccine: 21 years
In 1934, scientists were trying unsuccessfully to make vaccines from the ground-up spinal cords of monkeys. In 1952, after several more failed trials, Jonas Salk tested a vaccine that used a dead form of the virus. It got the greenlight for public use in 1955 -- in time to help combat a huge U.S. outbreak.
The Pill: 24 years
In 1941, chemistry professor Russell Marker made synthetic progesterone using a compound found in Mexican wild yams. His innovation paved the way for creation of the Pill, approved by the FDA in 1960. Yet it took five years and a Supreme Court ruling before American women got the right to take it. Thanks, Margaret Sanger!
HPV Vaccine: 26 years
German scientist Harald zur Hausen nailed down the cause of most cervical cancers--certain strains of human papilloma virus (HPV)--in the early 1980s. Still, it took scientists two decades to figure out how to prevent the infection. In 2006 the FDA approved the vaccine for girls between the ages of 9 and 26.
Lasik: 40 years
In 1950, Colombia-based ophthalmologist Jose Barraquer began cutting thin flaps in patients' corneas to refine their shape and help correct lousy vision. But it wasn't until lasers went mainstream that the procedure could be perfected. Forty years later, U.S. scientists created Lasik, quickly making contacts so 1989.
More from Prevention: