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AndroGel application: Richard M. Hackett/The Longmont Times-Call/AP • AndroGel: PRNewsFoto/Newscom

Testosterone trouble

Science | Doctors raise caution on the growth of treatment for “low T”

Issue: "No pray zone?," July 13, 2013

“I have low testosterone—there, I said it,” says a middle-aged male actor, moments before driving off in a blue convertible with a lovely female companion. “When I started losing energy and becoming moody, that’s when I had an honest conversation with my doctor.” Next we see a bottle of AndroGel, a prescription gel that will boost testosterone levels once rubbed on a man’s shoulders.

The commercial is part of a surge in advertisements and sales for testosterone replacement therapy. Ad spending for drugs like AndroGel catapulted to $107 million in 2012, up from $14 million the year before. Since 2001, testosterone prescriptions have tripled among men over 40, as more ask their doctors to treat “low T,” an age-related loss of testosterone marked by fatigue, low libido, or a depressed mood.

But some doctors think testosterone treatment is becoming a fad: Men hoping to boost their energy, muscle mass, or love life effortlessly are getting prescriptions, often without bothering to confirm their deficiency with a blood test. A June study found that a quarter of men taking testosterone replacement therapy had never received a blood test, even though professional guidelines recommend them.

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Safety warnings for AndroGel note that children who have skin-to-skin exposure to the gel may experience signs of puberty. In men, the gel may lower sperm count, increase prostate cancer risk, and cause blood clots, sleep apnea, or enlarged breasts. It’s not yet clear what the long-term health effects might be, making the treatment’s growing popularity cause for concern.

Monkey Business

Chimpanzee Central Washington University/AP

Capping off a series of moves to shrink the role of chimpanzees in medical research, U.S. officials in June proposed listing captive chimps as an endangered species. Although wild chimps have been protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1990, an exception gives chimp owners in the United States—including researchers—more liberty with their pets or patients, as the case may be. The Fish and Wildlife Service wants to remove that exception.

The change, if adopted, would mean scientists who want to conduct medical tests with chimps in a way that might “harm” or “harass” them (like taking biopsies, injecting them with drugs, or infecting them with viruses) would need a federal license to do so.

Animal welfare groups, including the Jane Goodall Institute and the Humane Society of the United States, have long lobbied for such protections. In 2011 the federal government announced it would no longer fund any but the most necessary chimp research, and in January a federal committee recommended retiring about 450 government-supported chimps from research facilities. —D.J.D.

Black gold rush

A fracking site in Washington, Pa.
Associated Press/Photo by Keith Srakocic
A fracking site in Washington, Pa.

Daily crude oil production in the United States rose by a record 1 million barrels per day last year, thanks to hydraulic fracturing technology that is driving a drilling boom. An annual BP analysis reported 2012 production grew by 14 percent—beating out every other country’s rate of growth. Previously, the biggest surge in U.S. oil occurred in 1967, when output rose by 640,000 barrels per day. The United States remains the world’s third largest oil producer, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia, but some experts predict it could gain first place by 2020. —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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