Sunday, July 20, 2014

Is the Microchip the future of birth control?

Is the Microchip the future of birth control?

This amazing remote-controlled contraceptive microchip you implant under your skin is the future of medicine

Washington Post | July 17, 2014

By 2018, it may be possible to purchase a contraceptive microchip that you implant under your skin that delivers birth control hormones automatically into your blood stream every day for as long as 16 years.

That’s the vision of Microchips, a Massachusetts-based startup formed by MIT researchers who are developing a remote-controlled drug delivery microchip you would implant under your skin near your abdomen (or, if you prefer, your backside region). Without having to go back to a doctor, women would be able to switch birth control hormones on and off at the touch of a button.

That’s a big idea and it’s no wonder it’s attracted the attention of Bill Gates, who is backing the microchip contraceptive through the family planning unit of his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates sees the contraceptive chip as not something really intended for the Western world — where, no doubt, plenty of single women might line up to use the device – but for the developing world, where it is more than just a lifestyle choice, it is a form of reproductive justice. According to the Gates Foundation, 120 million women in the world’s poorest societies could benefit from voluntary family planning.

Where things get really interesting is that the same technology could be used to deliver just about any drug, not just birth control hormones. In fact, Microchips calls itself a “programmable drug delivery” company. The first clinical tests of the device delivered hormones to women suffering from osteoporosis. The way the chip works, the hormones are housed inside an impregnable platinum and titanium seal. A single electrical current triggered by the remote control essentially “melts” the seal, enabling the hormone to flow out. In the future, those modules could be loaded up with all sorts of drugs to regulate the human body.

Of course, there are a number of issues that need to be worked out before we can talk seriously about these contraceptive microchips triggering a new round of medical innovation. Let’s start with the technological issues first. These microchips need to be implanted under the skin, something that brings with it a certain amount of squeamishness. There’s something about having a microchip implanted under your skin that sounds a bit too much like a cyborg science fiction nightmare. In a best case scenario, the contraceptive microchip won’t be available on the market until 2018 and clinical trials won’t start until 2016.