Why We're Excited about the Microneedle Contraceptive Patch

(And why you should be too)

By Brittany Goetsch

Executive Summary: The microneedle patch consists of hundreds of tiny needles in a device the size of a coin. A microneedle contraceptive patch is being developed by FHI 360 and other partners. It has great potential as a new contraceptive method. It would be easy, discreet, and self-administered.

What if we told you that someday, women could apply a small patch of painless and dissolvable tiny needles to their skin – and use it as their contraceptive method? While it may sound far-fetched, it’s closer than you think.

The microneedle patch consists of hundreds of tiny needles in a device the size of a coin. It’s been developed to deliver vaccines and other biotherapeutics such as insulin. Now, FHI 360, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Michigan are developing one that could be used as a contraceptive method.

Why are we excited?

The microneedle patch would be easy and discreet.

The microneedle patch could be self-administered. It also wouldn’t need to be worn to be effective. The user would apply the patch briefly to the skin. Pulling off the patch releases the microneedles under the skin, and the user can throw the backing away.

An experimental microneedle contraceptive patch is shown next to a blister pack of birth control pills.

Credit: Christopher Moore/Georgia Tech

The microneedle patch would be one of the first self-administered long-acting methods.

The microneedles slowly release a contraceptive hormone as they dissolve rapidly under the skin. The slow release protects against pregnancy for at least a month at a time. Developers hope that eventually one single patch could provide protection for up to six months.

Other long-acting contraceptive methods require a user to see a medical provider to have a device inserted (in the case of an IUD or implant) or for periodic injections, but the microneedle contraceptive patch would not.

Photo © 2014 Akram Ali, Courtesy of Photoshare

A microneedle patch would benefit the supply chain (especially in low resource settings).

The microneedle contraceptive patch would be relatively cheap compared to other resupply methods like the pill. It could cost as little as a dollar per patch if enough are produced. And if women could administer the method themselves, healthcare costs would go down overall.

Sounds great, so when will this be released to the public?

Not for a while. The microneedle contraceptive patch is still in the preclinical phase of development, meaning it hasn’t been tested for use in humans yet. But there is a lot of excitement among those working in the contraceptive technologies field. Stay tuned for updates as product development continues.

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