Remote control contraceptives? Yup.

Implantable contraceptives have been available for quite some time now.

This variety of birth control gets implanted under the skin and remains in place, slowly releasing a hormone that prevents pregnancy.  The patient doesn’t have to worry about missing a dose of her oral birth control pill (BCP), or worry about running out of pills.

However, this method does require a minor surgical procedure to implant the unit.  And, when the hormone contents of the unit’s reservoir are depleted, the unit needs to be surgically removed and replaced.  And that has to be done fairly frequently.  With this unit, the hormone is continually released 24/7.  If the woman decides that she wants to get pregnant, it has to be removed.

Researchers have now developed an implantable contraceptive unit that is programmable.  It is implanted similarly to the one mentioned above, but, depending on how frequently it is used, it can last for about 16 years.  Therefore, it would probably only have to be replaced once.  The initial implant, and one replacement, would give a woman contraception for about 32 years total.  That’s near to what her reproductive lifespan would be.

birth control pills

Pills via Shutterstock

Interestingly, the microchip could be deactivated by the woman herself via remote control, should she decide that she did want to become pregnant.  Or, for example if she or her husband is going into military service, and she has no need for the contraceptive effects of the implant, she can deactivate it, and no hormone will be released for that period.  When she (or her spouse) returns, she can reactivate the implant so that hormone is released again, and she is again unable to bear children.

The reservoirs in this version have “doors” made of titanium and platinum.  When the hormone needs to be released, a tiny current is released from a small battery in the microchip.  The door temporarily melts, the hormone is released.  When the current stops, the door reforms and no more hormone is dispensed.  This can be programmed to be done automatically every day, or as needed.  The researchers are now working on encrypting the chip to make sure that only the woman can program her implant. (An obviously good idea.)

This technology has already been used in humans.  A study was done using a chip like this to treat osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.  The drug was placed in reservoirs in the chip and a programmed daily dose of medication was released.  The women did well with this method having only minor side effects, if any.

With FDA approval this might be something that would be available in about 3-4 years.  Funding for this research was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Family Planning Program.


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Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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