Needle Patch Could Give Women an Entire Month of Birth Control
Scientists develop innovative way to deliver time-released doses.
Regularly taking any form of medication, even something as important as birth control, on a rigorous daily basis can be challenging even at the best of times.
The good news is that Mark Prausnitz, leading a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has developed a unique approach that could someday allow women to never have to worry about remembering, each and every day, to take their hormonal birth control doses.
The needle delivery system
While it might initially sound like it could be uncomfortable, Prausnitz’s system could be a major new birth control option.
While it does involve needles, set in a small adhesive patch that is held to the skin for one minute and then removed, they are of the extreme micro-variety, meaning that there is supposed to be no discomfort applying or wearing the system.
What’s fascinating is that the needles are made up of a biodegradable polymer that, quoting from the team’s paper in Science Advances, “rapidly separate from the patch within the skin due to efflorescence triggered by contact with skin’s interstitial fluid.”
This way they deliver 30 days of hormonal birth control at a time, and so no worries about remembering to take pills.
The team, also in the paper, note that other injectable systems for birth control have a few key stepbacks, one being that they require a visit to a clinic or doctor and, two, unlike their micro-needle system, they can be uncomfortable to receive.
Possibilities for men as well?
Not to take away from the importance of Prausnitz and his team’s work giving women a possible new, and quite liberating, way of controlling family planning, his same system might someday also allow men to get into the act of being more responsible for birth control.
While the pursuit of a viable method of birth control for men has been, to put it mildly, a rocky one and by all accounts, it still might be several years away. But once the bugs have been worked out and medication or hormonal system is found, there’s a very real possibility that Prausnitz’s system could also be used by men.
Again, for everyone involved, the huge advantage is not having to remember to take a daily dose of medication: one application of the patch and there’s no longer any reason to worry about unexpected pregnancies.
Still a need to remain cautious
It should be mentioned that Prausnitz’s patch, as well as other forms of birth control, are good for just that: family planning.
In regards to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), however, they are quite useless, meaning that as with traditional hormonal birth control methods partners will still need to practice safe(r) sex.
This actually might need to be extra-reinforced when patches like Prausnitz’s becomes generally available, as some might think that getting their monthly dose is somehow a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to sexual behavior.
But for partners who are regularly tested for STIs, this system could be a great way to have a free and active sex life without needing to be tied down to a daily contraceptive dose. A patch once a month, admitted in the privacy of their home, and they can have as much sex as they desire without risk of an unexpected pregnancy.
Next-generation birth control
While the needle patch still has quite a bit of work to be done before it’s completely ready for distribution, including a series of human tests, Prausnitz’s system still shows a great deal of potential.
This is further borne out by the team’s own survey of women who might be interested in such a system, with a clear majority saying they would greatly prefer the needle-patch over both once-a-day hormone pills, once a month injections, or even invasive systems like IUDs (intrauterine devices).
So the need is there, the desire is equally present, and if testing goes smoothly and it is made available to the public, getting a micro-needle patch could become a welcome new addition to women’s birth control options.