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The Search for Unisex Contraceptive Drugs Gets a Major Boost

December 15, 2020
by Maddy Weinberg

A MacArthur “genius” awardee says women and men deserve better options.

When Polina Lishko received a call in September informing her that she had won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, she almost hung up. The physiologist had had so many grant applications turned down in recent years that several mentees had switched fields out of frustration. Now, she was being presented with $625,000 she hadn’t even applied for. “I initially, seriously, suspected it was a prank.” 

An associate professor of cell and developmental biology at Berkeley, Lishko will use the money to fund her research on ovarian and sperm cells. By uncovering the physiological mechanisms that allow sperm to fertilize eggs, she hopes to advance the development of new unisex contraceptive drugs to prevent unwanted pregnancies without using hormones, which can cause harmful side effects. “Women deserve better options,” says Lishko. “As well as men, who currently can only rely on either condoms or [vasectomies].” 

The MacArthur Fellowship is a boon to more than just the bottom line. “Psychologically, it is a huge boost—not only for me, but for the team, as well,” Lishko told Berkeley News. “It shows a recognition of the importance of the field of reproductive physiology.”

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