A new implantable birth control device containing the hormone levonorgestral that lasts 16 years and can be turned off and on with a wireless remote is currently in development and will enter pre-clinical testing next year.
The chip is designed to be implanted under the skin at the buttocks, upper arm, or abdomen, and if tests prove it to be safe and effective, the device could be on the market as early as 2018.
The concept of a birth control chip originated two years ago when Bill Gates and his colleagues visited Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and asked technicians there if it was possible to develop a contraceptive device that a woman could turn off and on at will. That led to the development of a 20mm by 7 mm chip with a reservoir of levonorgestral – the same used in many birth control pills and the Mirena IUD – stored in a 1.5 cm-wide microchip within the device.
A small electric charge melts an ultra-thin seal around the hormone reservoir, releasing a 30-microgram dose of into the body daily. It would also be encrypted to protect wireless data flow and keep it secure.
The device does not come without its kinks, and clinical studies are aimed at helping identify side effects that may emerge with use. The safety and efficacy data from clinical trials will determine if the chip would have a fighting change at hitting the market. If those risks can be worked out, experts say it is likely that “smart implanted systems” could be used to treat a wide range of medical conditions.
Often adverse events don’t surface until after the device has been on the market, such as the Mirena IUD. That intrauterine device has been shown to migrate from its intended position in the uterus and perforate tissue and organs, requiring surgery to remove the device.