Let’s Talk Contraception: New Developments in Contraceptives for Women

Image: Microchips Biotechnology

Image: Microchips Biotechnology

With the availability of an array of birth control methods ranging from pills to patches, from rings to shots, from male condoms to female condoms, and from implants to intrauterine devices, you might think there is no need for further research into contraception. But not all women around the world have access to the choices that many of us reading this article might take for granted. In fact, many have no access to contraceptives at all.

What do you think about a birth control implant that lasts 16 years and can be activated by remote control?

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is leading the charge in the development of new types of contraceptives for women, especially those who live in areas of the world without easy access to modern contraceptives. According to the World Health Organization, 225 million women in developing countries would like to delay or stop childbearing, but are not using any method of contraception. By giving large grants through their foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates are providing the financial backing for contraceptive research and drug development, which will enable women worldwide to take control of their health — and the health of their children.

In 2012, the Gates Foundation granted Microchips Biotech $6.7 million to develop a microchip implant containing the hormone levonorgestrel (which is a hormone in many oral birth control pills). This very small device, which measures only 20 millimeters by 20 millimeters by 7 millimeters, contains an internal battery and a microchip holding tiny reservoirs of the hormone. The device is implanted under the skin of a woman’s buttocks, upper arm, or abdomen. Once implanted, it releases 30 micrograms of levonorgestrel into the body each day when a small electrical charge inside the chip melts an ultra-thin seal around the hormone reservoir to release the daily dose of medication.

This device will protect against pregnancy for up to 16 years. No other form of birth control implant lasts as long. Most other implants work for 3 to 5 years. The copper IUD is closest, with up to 10 years of protection. And the amazing part is that it can be turned off and on by remote control. Other contraceptive implants need to be removed by a health care provider to deactivate them. With microchip technology, a woman can stop or regulate her protection by her own remote control!

For women in countries where there is little access to routine medical care or contraceptives, reversible contraception that lasts 16 years and is easily controlled by the woman herself will be amazing and empowering. Microchip technology may need to be explained well to gain acceptance, but this type of drug delivery is going to be much more common in the future for many types of medications.

Clinical trials are ongoing and also will address issues concerning security and encryption. The device needs to be protected so only the user can control its activation or deactivation. It will also need to obtain FDA approval, but the plan is for this new contraceptive microchip to be available in 2018.

More recently, the Gates Foundation has granted $5 million to the Oregon Health & Science University to develop a non-surgical, single-dose, permanent type of contraceptive. This contraceptive would potentially serve women who have the family they want and do not wish to become pregnant again. Such a method is particularly important for women like those in Uganda, where 50 percent report they do not want to be pregnant again, but only 2 percent have access to contraceptives. It is also applicable to women who have their desired family size and have not reached menopause, and who do not want to consider permanent surgical contraception such as a tubal ligation or a vasectomy for their partner.

This research is still in the early development phase, but Jeffrey Jensen, the lead researcher, states his goal as very simple: “to make every pregnancy planned and highly desired.” What more could we wish for in family planning?

For more information about currently available contraceptives and which one is right for you, contact your local Planned Parenthood health center for an appointment.

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