A new firm of birth control could allow women to switch contraception on and off with a remote control. It could also be adapted for other drugs.
The device is 20mm x 20mm x 7mm and includes a battery and a 1.5-cm wide microchip. At scheduled intervals, the chip releases an electric charge that melts a seal surrounding a controlled dose of a drug. The seal is made of a thin but airtight layer of titanium and platinum
In the device’s planned birth control form, the drug would be contraceptive levonorgestrel. The chip would release a dose of 30 micograms daily for 16 years, meaning even a woman who wanted to use it for her entire reproductive life would often only have to replace it once. Fitting the chip takes up to half an hour and requires only local anesthetic.
Using a remote control, the woman could switch off the releases, allowing her to try to conceive. She could then switch the releases back on again later on.
The company behind the device, microchips (funded partly by the Bill & Miranda Gates Foundation), has already tested the technology on patients requiring osteoporosis medicine. The month-long testing had no problems such as immune system reactions.
The plan now is to get the FDA to approve pre-clinical trials in 2015 and have the device on the market in 2016. Among the work still to do is to maximize security to remove any question of tampering, if only to avoid unfortunate conversations concluding “I didn’t know I was going to get pregnant, my darling, I must have been hacked.”
The set-up already requires the remote control to be applied to the skin near the implant. Researchers are now working on a way to encrypt the wireless data and the chip.
The company is also developing a version of the system that has the controlled release but not the remote control. That would be cheaper, but only suitable for situations where there’s no possibility of needing to control or stop the dosage after the device is implanted.