A new monthly birth control pill that slowly releases hormones over 29 days could replace the daily doses taken by millions of women worldwide
- Unintended pregnancy is a major public health issue that costs the US $21 billion a year
- Women bear the brunt of preventing it, with nearly 65% preferring to take daily oral contraceptives
- Forgotten doses risk pregnancy and public health officials advocate long-acting forms
- Now, Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists have created a new star-shaped will that released contraceptive for 10 days in pigs
Women may finally get to delete their daily birth control alarms in exchange for once-a-month contraception, a new study suggests.
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new pill that slowly releases a contraceptive drug over the course of 29 days in tests using pigs.
This is accomplished in part through the innovative design of a capsule that slowly unfolds inside the stomach.
Missed doses of daily pills are a risk factor for unintended pregnancy, a public health concern most experts say is best combated with adoption of long-acting contraceptives.
An end to daily birth control? MIT scientists are making a ‘monthly’ pill that releases contraceptive medication over the course of 29 days (file)
Women bear the brunt of the burden of preventing unintended pregnancy in the US and around the world.
Unintended pregnancy fuels a cycle of poverty and is estimated to cost American taxpayers $21 billion, according to a 2015 Guttmacher Institute estimate.
Currently, nearly half – 45 percent – of pregnancies in the US are unintended.
Women’s health specialists advocate for long-acting forms of birth control like intrauterine devices (IUDs), the implant and the shot because they have lower failure rates than condoms or daily birth control pills.
These long-acting contraceptives have become increasingly popular in recent years, but women using them are still a minority and adoption has been slow.
‘Even with all these long-acting devices available, there’s a certain population who prefers to take medications orally rather than have something implanted,’ said Dr Ameya Kirtane, study co-author.
‘For those patients, something like this would be extremely helpful.’
In fact, it’s a significant enough population that the project caught the eye of the Bill and Melinda Gates’s Foundation, which has poured $13 million into the development of a long-acting pill.
The first challenge that faced the MIT team was keeping the capsule intact long enough in the stomach to continue to release all of its medication at once.
Acid in the stomach that digests food is highly corrosive.
By the end of two weeks, earlier iterations of the capsules had disintegrated.
The scientists went back to the drawing board and came up with a different pill using tougher polyeurothane – rubber-like material – formed into the shape of a star.
By creating, effectively, medical origami, the researchers were able to protect the medication from the harsh environment of the stomach.
It was able to withstand a whole month inside the digestive system.
Slowly the star-shaped drug unfolded, making it lodge into place, where it delivered the contraceptive to the pigs used in the study for nearly a month.
Once it’s ready for human use, the drug will be made in such a way that it simply goes the way of anything else we consume and no longer need: through the digestive tract and out.
It’s not clear what type of contraceptive was used, or if it is similar to anything already on the market, but the researchers are aiming for human trials – and soon.
‘Coming up with a monthly version of a contraceptive drug could have a tremendous impact on global health,’ Dr Kirtane says.
‘The impact that oral contraceptives can have on human health and gender equality cannot be overstated.’
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