Once-a-month contraceptive pill developed by scientists

Gelatine capsule, a once-a-month contraceptive pill tested on pigs, could prevent unplanned pregnancies caused by errors in daily pill use

This is an edited version of an article first published by The Guardian.

A contraceptive pill that only needs to be taken once a month has been developed by scientists.

The gelatine capsule, which has so far only been tested on pigs, dissolves in the stomach to a release a six-armed star-shaped polylmer structure that sits in the stomach for at least three weeks and releases synthetic hormones to prevent pregnancy.

Scientists say it could help to prevent unplanned pregnancies caused by errors in daily pill use.

Similar drug delivery systems have previously been tested on animals by the same team to deliver anti-malarial drugs and HIV antiretroviral therapy.

However, this new study is the first time the approach has been used to deliver contraceptives and shown to release a drug over such a long period.

Experts say the approach could add to the existing range of women’s contraceptive options. But Professor Robert Langer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a co-author of the study, said the approach could eventually be applied to an even broader range of applications.

“I hope there will be pills that people could swallow that could last for any length of time to treat different diseases, like mental health diseases and opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s, Aids,” he said.

Writing in the Science Translational Medicine journal, Langer and colleagues report how they designed the capsule and polymer system, tweaking the latter’s structure to increase its surface area, monitoring the rate of hormone release, and testing the system to make sure it could withstand the acid conditions of the stomach.

Previous research has suggested up to 50% of women using daily oral contraceptive pills miss at least one dose over a three-month interval, potentially leaving them at risk of getting pregnant. “Even when they are intending to take birth control, people forget,” Langer said.

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While less than one woman in 100 are expected to become pregnant if a daily pill is taken reliably, in real life missed doses mean that about nine women in 100 will become pregnant while using such contraception.

Swallowing a monthly pill, the team says, could reduce such errors in use, potentially reducing numbers of unplanned pregnancies.

However, as with other forms of hormonal contraception the new pill, while effective, might have unwanted side effects.

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