We may be just years away from the longest-lasting and most hassle-free contraceptive ever invented.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced that it is backing a Massachusetts biotech company that is developing an implantable contraceptive that can be activated and deactivated by the user, the MIT Technology Review reports.
Current contraceptive implants—inserted into a woman's upper arm where they release the hormone progestin—last about three years and are the size of a matchstick. MicroCHIPS Inc. is building a wireless device that is only 20 millimeters long and that would last 16 years. The chip, which would lie under the skin in the buttocks, upper arm or abdomen, slowly releases levonorgestrel, a hormone used in some types of the Pill, in some types of hormonal IUDs and in Plan B.
If the chip works as intended, women could "deactivate" their birth control without a trip to the doctor, which can be a major barrier for women who don't have easy access to health care, such as in the developing world. The chip's long lifespan would also minimize doctor's visits: Currently no type of hormonal birth control lasts longer than five years. The non-hormonal copper IUD lasts 12. (Read more about IUDs here.)
The device is currently being tested for safety, efficacy and security. MicroCHIPS hopes to introduce the product, which would need FDA approval to be used in the United States, in 2018.