The chip is tiny, measuring only 20 x 20 x 7 millimeters, and it has been designed to last 16 years. It would deliver 30 mg of levonorgestrel daily. Levonorgestrel is used in a number of current hormonal and emergency contraceptives, so it’s not the birth control medication which would change, but the way it’s delivered.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this microchip birth control is the ease with which a women would be able to turn it off and on. If at some point she decides she would like to try and conceive a baby, all she would need to do is turn it off with a remote control, then she can turn it back on again when she no longer wanted to conceive. This allows her not to have to think about taking birth control when she wants the protection, but she has a simple way to stop if she decides she no longer wants to use it.
While the news is focused on birth control, the technology will likely have a much larger impact than this single area. Each microchip contains a reservoir array where the hormone is contained and protected, but any drug could conceivably be placed in it and released over time at a pre-programmed schedule.
In fact, the first human clinical trials with this chip were to deliver an osteoporosis medication. The chip was implanted under the skin using a local anesthetic in a process which tool less than 30 minutes. The post-menopausal women received the medication for a month, and there were no adverse immune reactions to the chip. This trial has given hope it can be used to deliver birth control in the same way without causing any negative immune reaction.
While the concept results look positive and give high hopes to the MIT group that this will work, there are a number of issues which need to addressed as well. One of the main ones will be to encrypt the chips so the data they hold is secure over wireless systems.
While there is no estimate on the cost of this type of birth control at this stage, the personal financial savings for women could be huge. A remote controlled birth control that lasts for half their child bearing life would give them simple and effective control over their reproduction wants without the fear of forgetting to take the medication. If it proves to be effective without major side effects, it could have a major impact on how women in the US, and possibly the world, take birth control in the future.
(Photo courtesy of Sarah C)