Hormonal contraceptive options like birth controls pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs) are very effective at preventing pregnancies when used correctly, but they’re not without their drawbacks. It can be easy to forget to take a birth control pill every day, for example, and the IUD insertion process can be quite painful for some women. That’s why scientists are continuing to search for new ways to prevent pregnancies that are convenient, comfortable and accessible to women of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
At the Georgia Institute of Technology, one group of researchers recently unveiled an innovative new method of birth control that could deliver a month’s worth of contraceptive hormones in just a few seconds.
This experimental contraceptive uses a microneedle patch, which was originally designed to administer painless vaccinations. This patch contains roughly 100 microscopic biodegradable needles containing the contraceptive hormone levonorgestrel.
“When the patch is applied for several seconds, the microscopic needles break off and remain under the surface of the skin, where biodegradable polymers slowly release the contraceptive drug levonorgestrel over time,” said the researchers in a recent paper published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
The patch recently completed a successful round of testing in rats, and now the researchers are preparing to put their invention to the test again in human trials. If successful, it could become the first long-acting method of birth control that can be self-administered without the help of a physician. This would constitute a major breakthrough that could help to relieve the burden of family planning that’s currently placed on women who must take hormonal contraceptives every day, rather than just once a month.