Contraceptive control by an electronic chip

CONTRACEPTION: One more thing to think about.

TAKING a contraceptive pill every single day is just one more thing to think about. But, that could all be about to change.

Scientists have developed an electronic chip which could work for up to 16 years, much longer than current contraceptive implants that only last around five years.

Expected to be available in 2018, the device, the size of a stamp, can be inserted under the skin and release daily amounts of contraceptive.

The chip also comes with a remote control device allowing it to be turned off if a pregnancy is desired. It can be easily turned back on again when required.

Each chip has a series of wells loaded with doses of levonorgestrel, a hormone widely used in existing contraceptives. The well is covered with a titanium and platinum seal that prevents the drug from being released until needed.

At the release time, an electric current melts a metal cap on a single well, and releases the contraceptive into the bloodstream.

The chip could also be adapted to dispense other medicines and has already been trialled on elderly women suffering from osteoporosis using the bone-building drug teriparatide. Several in the trial said the device was so comfortable that they often forgot it was there.

Professor Charles Kingsland, of the Hewitt Fertility Centre at Liverpool Women’s Hospital, described the technology as “interesting but a bit Big Brother.”

He 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.”

The chip is designed to be implanted just below the skin of the buttocks, upper arm or stomach and would take a 30-minute operation at a GP’s surgery. It isn’t yet known how much the chip will cost.

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