Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Contraception by WiFi

By Michael Cook

How secure is an implantable chip that enables birth control to be switched on and off with a mobile phone?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Two years ago, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates was visiting the Langer Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the biggest biomedical engineering lab in the world. Bob Langer is a world leader in drug delivery systems for treating cancer, diabetes and other disorders. Bill Gates, through his philanthropic foundation, is a world leader in delivering high-quality birth control to the developing world.

Gates asked Langer about the possibility of developing an implantable, long-lasting contraceptive that could be turned on and off remotely. His foundation hopes to deliver effective contraceptives to 120 million women and girls in the poorest countries by 2020. A wireless pill must have seemed ideal.

And now it is on its way. Earlier this year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave a Massachusetts company, MicroCHIP, US$4.6 million to develop this device. A prototype measures 20 x 20 x 7 mm. After being implanted under the skin of the buttocks, upper arm or abdomen, it will dispense daily doses of the hormone levonorgestrel.

To conceive, women would turn the dosage off with a remote control, perhaps their mobile phone. To shut down their fertility, they would log into the system and turn the chip back on. At the moment, no hormonal contraceptive lasts longer than 5 years but MicroCHIP’s device will dispense contraception for 16 years....

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.