Monthly birth-control pill could be ready within years

Henrietta Brewer
December 5, 2019

According to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, from 2015 to 2017 approximately 47 million women aged 15-49 in the US reported current use of contraceptives.

In their earlier studies, the researchers loaded the capsules with drugs to treat malaria, as well as HIV drugs, which now have to be taken every day.

Long-lasting capsule can remain in the stomach and release contraceptive drugs over several weeks.

. The arms were loaded with the oral contraceptive drug levonorgestrel and folded up into a capsule that can be swallowed.

"We found a dramatic difference in the size of the brain structures between women who were taking oral contraceptives and those who were not", said Lipton. But in a scientific principle, they have now shown that the same invention can also administer a constant drip of contraceptive hormones in the body of a pig for up to 29 days.

Women who take birth control pills have a smaller hypothalamus, a region of the brain associated with mood and sex drive, compared to non-users, according to preliminary research. Once in the stomach, the arms unfold and have a span that is larger than the opening of the human pylorus, helping the system stay in the stomach where it can release the drug over time.

"Certainly one of the theoretical benefits of this drug-delivery system is that it could maximize the efficacy of [birth control pills], because it doesn't depend on daily use", said senior researcher Dr. Giovanni Traverso, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

To make their new contraceptive pill last for three to four weeks, the researchers had to incorporate stronger materials than those used in the earlier versions, which could survive in the harsh environment of the stomach for up to two weeks.

Using validated methods, researchers studied the MRI brain scans of 50 healthy women, 21 of whom were taking the birth control pill. Previous research has suggested that people are better at remembering to take medicine when they have to take it only weekly or monthly, instead of daily.

The delivery system is made of polymers called polyurethane, which can resist acid gastric fluids. But Lyndra Therapeutics, a company founded by Traverso and others, recently received a $13 million grant from the Gates Foundation to further the development of the approach and move it into human studies. They also found that by changing the length of the polymer, they could change the amount of drug that it releases - either through diffusion (where it naturally leaves the contraption because it flows from an area of high concentration to one that's low) or degradation (where parts of the arms break down and release the drug). Eventually, the team believes, monthly pills built using this technology could provide treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure drugs, Alzheimer's and more, freeing people from having to keep in mind to take daily medication.

Other types of extended-release contraceptives are already available, in the form of implants under the skin, intrauterine devices, vaginal rings and injectibles.

The team says they hope to begin human clinical trials of the new contraceptive drug delivery system within the next three to five years.

The star-shaped device has six arms, and each holds a certain medication dose.

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