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This Tiny Patch Could Give You a Month's Birth Control in Seconds

Georgia Institute of Technology scientists have invented a microneedle patch that only needs to be briefly pressed against the skin to deliver a contraceptive drug.

by Zing Tsjeng
Jan 17 2019, 6:33pm

The experimental microneedle contraceptive skin patch. Photo by Christopher Moore, Georgia Tech

Are you frustrated by having to take the Pill every day? Not keen on the idea of getting an IUD? Scientists might have the solution: a long-acting birth control patch that you can simply press into your skin for a few seconds to get a month's worth of contraceptive drug.

NBC News reports that researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have invented a patch that uses dissolvable microneedles to deliver levonorgestrel, a common hormonal medication that prevents pregnancy. The research was published in the scientific journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

When applied, the microneedles break off and implant themselves under the surface of the skin to dissolve and slowly release the drug over time. Similar technology has been used to invent vaccination patches that are now being trialled on humans. (For those of you who are squeamish about pain, the subjects in the vaccination patch trial have so far reported that administering one feels painless.)

So far, the birth control patch has been only successfully tested on rats. "We do not yet know how the contraceptive microneedle patches would work in humans," Mark Prausnitz, a regents' professor at Georgia Tech's School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and author of the research paper, said in a statement to EurekAlert. "Because we are using a well-established contraceptive hormone, we are optimistic that the patch will be an effective contraceptive. We also expect that possible skin irritation at the site of patch application will be minimal, but these expectations need to be verified in clinical trials."

The contraceptive patch is still some way off, but researchers are hopeful that it could eventually provide a reliable and inexpensive method of contraception for those who are unable to access more traditional methods of birth control.

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They told NBC News that a patch should only cost about a dollar each, and added that their goal is to eventually develop a patch that would only require application every six months.

"There is a lot of interest in minimizing the number of healthcare interventions that are needed," Prausnitz said. "Therefore, a contraceptive patch lasting more than one month is desirable, particularly in countries where women have limited access to healthcare. But because microneedles are, by definition small, there are limits to how much drug can be incorporated into a microneedle patch."