In 2018, a new birth control implant may be available that has the same effects of some forms of oral contraception. The implant would be placed in the arm, stomach or buttocks and would release daily doses of levonorgestrel, which is the same hormone used in the Plan B morning after pill, which may cause an abortion.
However, in contrast to current implants already on the market, this contraceptive would come with a remote control that would be used if the woman wanted to become pregnant. The Daily Mail reports that the device would come with a case that contains the chip, a battery and electronics for drug release and for wireless communication to the remote control. Although it is unknown how much the implant would cost, out of pocket costs for contraceptive implants in the United States range from $400 to $1,000.
At a pre-programmed release time, a small electrical current melts the metal cap on a single well, releasing the contraceptive into the bloodstream. The remote control can be used to over-ride the programme when needed. The system’s co-inventor is Robert Langer, one of the world’s top scientists. His other achievements range from growing an ear on the back of a mouse to creating a spray that keeps frizzy hair at bay.
The chip can be adapted to dispense other medicines and has already been trialed in osteoporosis patients. In trials on elderly women, it worked just as well as regular injections of the bone-building drug teriparatide. Crucially, many said the device was so comfortable that they often forgot it was there.
US manufacturer MicroCHIPS hopes to have the contraceptive-packed chip on sale by 2018.
Currently, MicroCHIPS is working to find a way to prevent hackers from taking control of the chip and making sure the birth control works effectively. Since the device can be turned on and off remotely, the technology could be abused and some scientists have concerns.
Professor Charles Kingsland, of the Hewitt Fertility Centre at Liverpool Women’s Hospital, said, “Of course there are contraceptive implants widely available at present that are easy to insert and very effective at drug delivery. This new device however has the ability to be switched on and off remotely. One concern to me would therefore be who does the switching on and off.”