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Monthly contraceptive pills could replace the daily dose
An American research team is presenting a new type of contraception, in which a capsule only needs to be taken once a month. The capsule taken stays in the stomach for several weeks and gradually releases the active ingredients.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) presented a new birth control pill that doesn't have to be taken every day, but only once a month. The new contraceptive pill is designed to reduce the number of accidental pregnancies that can result from forgetting a daily dose. The study results were recently presented in the scientific journal "Science Translational Medicine".
Many pregnancies despite the pill
The birth control pill is the most popular form of contraception. However, the effectiveness depends heavily on regular use. It is estimated that nine percent of all women get pregnant despite the pill because they do not take the pill regularly.
How does the new pill work?
The new contraceptive is contained in a gelatin-coated capsule. In the stomach, the capsule can release the contraceptive it contains for over three weeks. Tests on pigs have already shown that the concentration of the active substances in the blood is the same as with a daily intake.
Star system for long-term pills
The pill uses a new drug delivery system developed by MIT. The system is arranged in a star shape. The active ingredient portions are folded within the arms of the star. As soon as the gelatin comes into contact with the gastric fluid, it slowly begins to dissolve. The arms of the star shape are released first. Thereupon the folded active ingredient portions slowly expand inside the arms and release their contents day by day.
Can also be transferred to other drugs
In previous studies, the researchers had already shown that the long-term capsules can also be loaded with medication to treat malaria and HIV medication, which currently have to be taken daily.
Special challenge with contraceptive pills
To ensure that the pill stays in the stomach for three to four weeks without completely dissolving, the researchers had to use stronger materials than in the previous versions. The team tested the capsules in artificial gastric fluids in the laboratory. So the optimal material thickness and the optimal folding system crystallized. In the tests, the pill contained the contraceptive levonorgestrel.
Will the monthly pill replace the daily pill?
The capsule is designed so that the arms of the star-shaped capsule break off after three to four weeks and the remnants then leave the body via the digestive tract. "We hope that this work - to our knowledge, the first example of a month-long pill or capsule - will one day become potentially new methods and options for contraception," reports Professor Robert Langer from the study team
Also interesting for poorer countries
"The lack of access to contraceptives is a global health problem that causes unnecessary maternal and newborn deaths each year," said Professor Kimberly Scarsi of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The expert was not involved in the study, but is enthusiastic about the results.
"A once-monthly oral contraceptive would offer a discreet, non-invasive option of contraception that could significantly improve medication compliance to give women more control over their health and family planning decisions," said Scarsi.
When is the new pill available?
"By developing these technologies, we want to change people's experience of taking medication," added Giovanni Traverso from the study team. MIT researchers are committed to bringing this delivery method to market in the next three to five years.
Improve global health
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 214 million women of childbearing age in developing countries do not use modern contraceptive methods, even though they do not want to get pregnant. "Introducing a monthly version of a contraceptive could have a huge impact on global health," added Ameya Kirtane from the study team. In addition, this method of contraception could contribute to gender equality and more self-determination for women. (vb)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
- Ameya R. Kirtane, Tiffany Hua, Alison Hayward, and others: A once-a-month oral contraceptive, Science Translational Medicine, 2019, stm.sciencemag.org
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): Monthly birth control pill could replace daily doses (accessed: December 5, 2019), news.mit.edu