There aren’t that many long-acting birth control options to choose from. You can get an intrauterine device (IUD) or a birth control implant; in either case, you have to make a trip to your doctor. But a research team at the Georgia Institute of Technology has invented a long-acting birth control patch that you can simply press into your arm or leg for five seconds to get a full month’s dose of birth control, NBC News reports. The researchers said they hope their work leads to a lower-cost, more accessible contraceptive option in the future, says NBC News.
The birth control patch uses microscopic needles that break off and remain under the surface of your skin, according to the news release. The microscopic needles then slowly biodegrade and release the hormone levonorgestrel throughout the month, the news release said. Because the word “needles” is involved, the patch might not sound all that appealing, but it’s actually the same technology the Georgia Institute of Technology researchers used to develop a flu vaccine patch back in 2017, according to NBC News. During clinical trials, people who tried the microneedle flu patch said it was easy to use and completely painless, says NBC News.
According to the researchers, most long-acting birth control methods are more reliable than the pill or condom, but they require administration by a health professional, says CBS News. That can limit patient access to contraceptives, CBS News reports. “Our goal is for women to be able to self-administer long-acting contraceptives with the microneedle patch that would be applied for five seconds just once a month,” Mark Prausnitz, a professor in the bioengineering program at Georgia Institute of Technology and one of the researchers helping lead the effort, said in a statement to CBS.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) named unplanned pregnancy a “major public health problem” in the United States back in 2015, stating that around 50 percent of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. The ACOG says oral birth control and condoms have a high failure rate, in part because people don’t typically use them as directed. That’s why the ACOG recommends long-acting birth control methods like IUDs and implants — people don’t have to worry about remembering to take a pill or put on a condom. But getting an IUD or implant isn’t possible for everyone, according to the University of Wisconsin, which supports the researchers' assertions that IUDs and implants can be expensive, and you have to see a doctor to have one inserted or implanted.
It’s still going to be some time before you see a birth control patch on the market, though. According to the news release, the team at Georgia Tech has only tested the long-acting birth control patch on rats. “We do not yet know how the contraceptive microneedle patches would work in humans,” Mark Prausnitz, a Regents Professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the paper’s corresponding author, said in the news release. “Because we are using a well-established contraceptive hormone, we are optimistic that the patch will be an effective contraceptive.”
The researchers continue working on other applications for the microneedle patch, including delivery of vaccines for measles and other infectious diseases, a representative from the Georgia Institute of Technology tells Bustle. Seeing researchers use technology to open up access to health care is truly medical advancement at its best.