Scientists Are Developing a Once‑a‑Month Female Birth Control Pill
The best thing about birth control pills is that they’re almost foolproof in preventing pregnancies, cheap, easily available and even easier to consume. The worst thing is you have to remember to take them every day, in the same three-hour window for them to remain as effective — which is easier said than done. In the U.S., for instance, the effectiveness rate of birth control pills is closer to 91%, as close to one-third of users have reported missing their dose during a menstrual cycle.
Now, scientists have made a breakthrough in developing an oral contraceptive pill that needs to be taken only once a month, which could help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies resulting from women missing their dose.
The capsule, once ingested, dissolves away to unfold into a six-armed star-shaped structure, where each structure is made out of silicon polymer bonded with levonorgestrel—the hormone used in intrauterine devices. These arms are cut with little repeating windows for the drug to seep out into the gut and thereon, into the bloodstream. When in its unfurled state, this structure’s diameter is wider than the gateway to the intestines in the stomach — which keeps the silicone starfish in the stomach for the drugs to release into the body, unlike a single capsule which would easily pass through to the intestines. The capsule is designed to break down after three to four weeks, and exit the body through the digestive tract.
That’s the solution a team led by scientists at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MIT came up with about five years ago when they were building slow-release pills to deliver treatments for malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV. But according to a new study published by the team in Science Translational Medicine, they’ve now demonstrated that the same contraption can also deliver a steady drip of contraceptive hormones in a pig for 29 days as effectively as a daily dose of the hormone.
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“The proof-of-concept experiments were conducted late last year. Since then, the long-lasting contraceptive has begun to be commercially developed by a Boston-area company called Lyndra Therapeutics, which Traverso cofounded with MIT bioengineer Robert Langer in 2015. In July, the startup received $13 million from the Gates Foundation to advance the monthly pill to human trials, with a focus on bringing it to low- and middle-income countries,” Wired reported.
But it’s still some ways to go. Human testing for the pill won’t begin until 2021, and even then some questions remain unanswered such as what if women forget this new pill more simply because it’s only once a month –after all, there is something to be said about a daily routine. Also, will it be an over-the-counter pill or will it require a visit to the doctor who will have to explain how it works, which also drastically changes the ease of accessibility to contraception?
But all said and done — can. not. wait. to not have to think about tricking my body into believing it’s pregnant on a daily basis!