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Is a once-a-month birth control pill on the horizon?

© Paramesh Karandikar/MIT/Langer Lab

Post written by Tishina Okegbe, FHI 360

The birth control pill, commonly known as “the Pill” is one of the most effective short-acting contraceptive methods. In perfect use “the Pill” is 99% effective in preventing against pregnancies; however, in actual and every day use, the effectiveness rate falls to 91%. This is primarily due to a lack of user adherence and missed doses. Many wonder if a longer-acting birth control pill could be developed. Well, a consortium of scientists led by researchers from inventor Robert Langer’s lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on this.

In an article recently published in Science Translation Medicine, lead authors Ameya Kirtane and Tiffany Hua report on a novel delivery mechanism that will allow an extended release birth control pill to provide one month of pregnancy protection. The researchers engineered “a capsule system that looks like a starfish, that can stay in the stomach several days, weeks, even a month at a time,” according to Dr. Giovanni Traverso, a senior author of the study. The six-arm device, which can hold medication doses, is folded inside an ordinary-sized capsule and after swallowing is dissolved by acid in the stomach allowing the star to unfold. The device slowly releases the medication, breaking down until it can be safely emitted through the digestive system.

The researchers used pigs as their model system —because they have human-like digestive systems— and found that the capsules steadily released contraceptives for up to four weeks, and the amount in the pigs’ bloodstream was comparable to amounts the daily contraceptive pill delivers. Though the results are preliminary and further safety testing is required before testing in women, it is still encouraging to know that scientists are making gains to bring a longer-acting birth control pill to reality. Further, if successful, the technology could be used to develop multipurpose technologies to deliver drugs that protect against both unplanned pregnancy and HIV.



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