Contraceptive patch could replace the Pill
A NEW contraceptive patch could one day prevent women getting pregnant for up to six months, experts have revealed.
The single-use patch only needs to be applied to the skin for a matter of seconds to work.
After placing the patch on the skin, the microneedles break off and under the surface of a woman's skin, The Sun reported.
The tiny needles are pain-free and are made of the same material as dissolvable stitches used in surgery, so are safely absorbed by the body.
Over a matter of months the needles are able to release the contraceptive drug into the bloodstream.
The patch could prove more effective than current options - removing the need for a woman to remember to take the Pill every day.
It could also prove more popular than other long-term contraceptives like the coil or implant, which require a doctor or nurse to implant or inject them.
However, the patch is still in the early stages of being developed and has been tested only on mice so far.
Professor Mark Prausnitz at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta said: "There is a lot of interest in providing more options for long-acting contraceptives.
"Our goal is for women to be able to self-administer long-acting contraceptives with the microneedle patch that would be applied to the skin for five seconds just once a month."
Prof Prausnitz said the aim is to develop a patch that can carry enough hormone to provide contraception for up to six months at a time.
His team used the same microneedle technology as that being developed to administer vaccines.
They built on a phase one clinical trial of a flu vaccine patch, carried out at Emory University.
That study suggested the patches could be safely used to deliver the vaccine.
Because microneedles are so small, they only enter the upper layers of the skin and volunteers taking part in the flu vaccine study didn't complain of any pain.
But Prof Prausnitz admitted more research and trials are needed to see exactly how the contraceptive patches would work in humans.
"Because we are using a well-established contraceptive hormone, we are optimistic that the patch will be an effective contraceptive," he said.
"We also expect that possible skin irritating at the site of patch application will be minimal, but these expectations need to be verified in clinical trials."
If the new patches are approved for use, they could be the first self-administered, long-acting contraceptive that doesn't require a regular needle injection.
So far tests in mice have only measured hormone levels and didn't attempt to determine if the patch could prevent pregnancy.
But, scientists have developed a human version of the patch, which they hope to test.
Prof Prausnitz added: "There is a lot of interest in minimising the number of healthcare interventions that are needed.
"Therefore, a contraceptive patch lasting more than one month is desirable, particularly in countries where women have limited access to healthcare.
"But because microneedles are, by definition small, there are limits to how much drug can be incorporated into a patch."
Gregory Kopf, from Family Health International which supported the research, said: "The microneedle patch is an exciting advancement in women's health.
"This self-administered, long-acting contraceptive will afford women discreet and convenient control over their fertility, leading to a positive impact on public health by reducing both unwanted and unintended pregnancies."
While the cost has yet to be set, Prof Prausnitz said he expected the patch would be cheap enough for use in developing countries.
The study was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
This story originally appeared in The Sun and is republished with permission.