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Coming Soon: The Devil’s Birth Control

With all the hullabaloo over birth control and the Christian right freaking out over it, we get news of a next-generation form of contraception that is sure to make their heads explode: an implantable microchip that prevents pregnancy and can be turned on and off.

A new candidate for the perfect contraceptive has surfaced – a wireless, remote-controlled implant that can be turned on and off at the push of a button.

Developed by US tech start-up MicroCHIPS, the device will begin pre-clinical testing in 2015. If the testing is a success, the device will be on the market by 2018.

According to Gwen Kinkead at MIT Technology Review, the device is just 20 x 20 x 7 mm, which is small enough to be implanted under the skin of the buttocks, upper arm, or abdomen. It uses a synthetic hormone called levonorgestrel, which is already featured in many current contraceptives, and it dispenses 30 mg of it per day via a special heat-activated seal.

“MicroCHIPS invented a hermetic [air-tight] titanium and platinum seal on the reservoirs containing the levonorgestrel. Passing an electric current through the seal from an internal battery melts it temporarily, allowing a small dose of the hormone to diffuse out each day,” says Kinkead.

And it lasts for 16 years. Women controlling their own reproduction and the “mark of the beast”? This is going to send the Christian right into a major league hissy fit.

Comments

  1. raven says

    Not too impressed.

    There are already implantable long acting hormonal birth control systems.

    They haven’t been too popular for a lot of reasons. One was taken off the market. Not because of jesus or angels but because they didn’t sell well.

    And that reservoir isn’t going to last 16 years. Not at 30 mgs per day. It’s going to have to be refillable.

  2. raven says

    One of my pet gripes is that more money should be spent on birth control systems.

    There is a fair amount of R&D spent on it, but it isn’t a high priority for the pharma/medical research establishment.

    For compelling reasons, they should spend more.

  3. dugglebogey says

    Even though the vast majority of women who take birth control are married, ANYONE WHO GETS THIS IS A FUCKING WHORE!

  4. matty1 says

    I do actually worry about that remote control bit. I imagine a scenario with an abusive boyfriend or husband turning off a womans birth control in the hope of using pregnancy to control her, how likely is this?

  5. Artor says

    Also not impressed, for the same reasons Raven listed. Also, because it’s RFID remote-controlled. Is it password protected? I can tell you right now some asshole is going to hack his girlfriend’s birth control chip, turn it off without her knowledge, and get her pregnant against her will. This is guaranteed, and only a matter of time. And it won’t be an isolated incident.

  6. Chris J says

    No, who it would really freak out is the misogynist crowd who are already convinced that roving packs of women seek out men to steal sperm from so they can entrap those men with pregnancy for… some… reason. A birth control method that could be turned off? Horrors!

    And yeah, by my rough calculations, 16 years of hormones at 30mg a day would be 175 grams. Pretty dang hefty for a small device. The battery might last that long.

  7. Abdul Alhazred says

    Coming soon: A woman getting pregnant because her birth control was hacked.

  8. octopod says

    Forget individual abusers; this could be MASS hacked.

    Which, you know, I’d hate to have it actually happen but now I’ve got a damn good idea for a sci-fi detective story.

  9. Matt G says

    30 milligrams doesn’t sound right. Probably 30 micrograms. Steroids tend to have very high potencies compared to other drugs.

  10. coragyps says

    “titanium and platinum seal on the reservoirs containing the levonorgestrel. Passing an electric current through the seal from an internal battery melts it temporarily”

    OUCH!!!!

  11. D. C. Sessions says

    Even though the vast majority of women who take birth control are married, ANYONE WHO GETS THIS IS A FUCKING WHORE!

    Well, of course. The only reason a married woman would ever use contraception of any kind is to get away with cheating on her husband.

  12. Georgia Sam says

    It’s a twofer! Sexual immorality and the mark of the beast, all in one nefarious device! The sermons practically write themselves!

  13. Matt G says

    Just checked and it is 30 micrograms. The Greek letter mu (like a “u” with a tail at the front) is used for micro so it would look more like “ug”.

  14. D. C. Sessions says

    coragyps, the masses of material here are REALLY tiny. Basically the same thing is used in some electronic memory devices and the energy involved is too low to be detectable by external temperature rise.

    Although I do confess that platinum and titanium are not the materials I would choose.

  15. says

    Forget individual abusers; this could be MASS hacked.

    It would be pretty easy to prevent that, if the design was done reasonably (use a VPN layer with a 128-bit key with retry backoff and key them uniquely per patient) The problem is that historically medical device makers do a poor job of security.

  16. Johnny Vector says

    Much as I would like to see improved contraception methods (and with extra schadenfreude as a bonus), this story comes from Technology Review and is thus worthy only of firmly ignoring.

    TR is the modern day equivalent of Popular Mechanics, breathlessly trumpeting* a hundred AMAZING and REVOLUTIONARY things each issue, every one of which is going to CHANGE THE WORLD!!! I would happily give 10:1 odds against anything published in TR actually coming to fruition within 10 years. (And they would all be sucker bets.)

    I used to read some of the commentary columns, but for the last 15 years it’s gone straight into the trash every month.

    *and if you’ve ever tried to play a trumpet without breathing, you understand what I’m talking about.

  17. says

    D. C. Sessions “Although I do confess that platinum and titanium are not the materials I would choose.”
    “Sure, you can cheap out and get inferior metals, but even if nobody else can tell, you’ll know that you didn’t give your ladyparts deserve the best.”

  18. eric says

    @14: that would mean 0.1725 grams total (for 16 years), which is feasible. No comment on either the wisdom of this method or the veracity of the source, other posters have covered that pretty well and I agree with what they say. Though IMO, I think hacking issues could largely (eventually) get resolved.

  19. Erk12 says

    Grab a ruler and look at how large 20x20x7 mm actually is, then think of someone putting an incision into your ass and sticking that in. Ouch. Whether or not it’s feasible (I’d be worried about it breaking or breaking open during a fall from skiing/biking/etc), I don’t think it would be too popular.

  20. Pierce R. Butler says

    octopod @ # 9: … this could be MASS hacked.

    And not just during Mass, but any time an implanted woman passes within range of the transmitter in the steeple.

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    Johnny Vector @ # 17: … Technology Review … is the modern day equivalent of Popular Mechanics…

    Can’t be: Wired has that niche filled to overflowing.

  22. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    In the mean time, can I maybe get an intermediate birth control method…?

  23. ragarth says

    Why don’t medical device manufacturers use skin conductance instead of wireless for communication with the devices, and implant a little microvibe in it so when the device is interfaced it gives feedback to the wearer that their device has been manipulated.

  24. eric says

    Grab a ruler and look at how large 20x20x7 mm actually is, then think of someone putting an incision into your ass and sticking that in.

    Its a lot smaller than the screws holding my buddy’s knee together were, I can tell you that. He had them taken out a while back, and those things were freakin’ HUGE. Different shape, of course, but much larger in volume. Thern there’s stuff like plates in the head, etc… Honestly, 2cm x 2cm may be scary if you’re a healthy individual who has never had to have anything stuck in your body. But I think it’s probably nowhere near as big as many things surgeons already stick in people.

  25. JustaTech says

    The proposed advantage of this device over the existing birth control implants is the better control of the hormone release. Most of the ones in use now (which are freaking huge, so don’t worry about the size) are intended to release slowly, but since all the material is there, some patients find that it’s way too much hormones. The very small dose would probably be a lot more comfortable for most people.

    From what I’ve read, the idea about being able to turn it off is so that a woman can leave it in place when she wants to get pregnant, and then turn it back on when she’s done. Clearly the security thing is a huge deal, and I’m pretty sure that any woman using this would demand very strong protections against having it turned off.

  26. paul says

    The drug will be stored at body temperature for 16 years?

    Also, what are the side effects of this steroid?

  27. D. C. Sessions says

    Grab a ruler and look at how large 20x20x7 mm actually is, then think of someone putting an incision into your ass and sticking that in.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/16/Fractured_TIBIA_FIBULA_01-25_1.jpg

    For comparison, the rod in that X-ray is 381 mm long and 10 mm diameter midshaft.

    20 mm by 20 mm isn’t all that big. It’s tuck nicely under the subcutaneous fat any number of places; IIRC under the subcutaneous fat at the hip (superior to the joint and inferior to the pelvic crest) is pretty good. Or for more padding under a breast, but that might lead to some asymmetry since they’re estrogen responsive.

  28. MadHatter says

    Levonorgestrel is already used in various BC pills, IUD’s, and one implant so in regards to side effects…the usual. Some women won’t tolerate it well, some will. And that’s why implants are less popular than pills. If you don’t tolerate it well then it’s far easier to switch methods than if there’s a thing under your skin.

    It’s the potential hackability that would make me uncomfortable using it though.

  29. Synfandel says

    @19 eric wrote: “that would mean 0.1725 grams total (for 16 years), which is feasible”

    I get a different figure:

    30 mg per day times 356 days per year times 16 years = 175200 mg or 175.2 grams or 6.18 ounces. I wouldn’t want to be carrying around two fifths of a pound of contraceptive under the skin of my ass.

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