A new non-hormonal contraceptive may soon be available for women, in the form of tiny implantable beads that effectively block impregnation. "The beads work by mimicking a human egg," reports NewScientist, "a trick that persuades sperm to bind to them." The foolish sperms then pathetically attempt, and fail, to impregnate the beads, which are implanted directly in a woman's womb. According to the journal Science Translational Medicine, this could act as a "dramatic" barrier to sperm.
According to the Telegraph, these sticky little beads are derived from seaweed, and they're terribly small; nearly eight million of them can fit easily inside a woman's womb. They're coated in a protein called ZP2, which sperm recognizes and binds to. According to Dr. Gunda Georg, the head of the department of Medicinal Chemistry at College of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota, the artificial eggs "are just the carrier for the protein ZP2 that catches the sperm… by itself [they have] no effect."
In a trial performed on mice, "researchers found that no mice became pregnant, even though they were mating regularly," the Telegraph reports.
There are many potential benefits of this invention, including its non-hormonal quality. Knowing that many women have claimed to experience negative side effects with hormonal birth control—it's made some women wish they were dead—could contraceptive beads and other non-hormonal forms of contraception be the death knell of hormonal birth control itself?
Dr. Nichole Tyson is an ob-gyn with Kaiser Permanente in California and a former member of the Committee on Adolescent Health Care at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "The estrogen in the combined birth control methods—pill, patch, ring—can cause an increased risk of blood clots," Dr. Tyson explained in an interview with Broadly. "But these risks are often over-exaggerated," she added. According to Dr. Tyson, there are eleven million women in the United States on hormonal birth control; among them, hormonal contraception is very well-tolerated. In addition, she said, hormonal birth control has several positive effects: "Medical benefits of the birth control include: less acne, less cramping, lighter menstrual flow, less excess body hair, lower cancer risk, fewer ectopic pregnancies, osteoporosis protection, lower risk of pelvic inflammatory disease," Dr. Tyson said.
Regarding the seaweed beads, Dr. Tyson is very pleased to see an increase in research into contraceptive options. "For women who have medical conditions that preclude hormonal contraception use or have struggled with side effects of hormonal methods, these nonhormonal methods would be a beneficial option," she said, adding that the already existing copper T IUD "is non-hormonal, effective for 12 years and is 99.9 percent effective. Hard to beat that!"
But when asked if there is an increased demand for non-hormonal birth control, Dr. Tyson said no. "The demand is really for reliable, effective methods that make contraception accessible and simplified for the reproductive age girl or woman."
But that's not what all the experts believe. Dr. Georg sees this mermaid birth control as part of a broader movement away from hormonal birth control itself. "I think that non-hormonal contraception for males and females is the future, " she said.