Birth Control Overview (cont.)
Although development of new birth control methods in the United States has slowed in the past few years, research outside of the United States continues at a rapid pace. Many new birth control designs are being tested to provide a greater variety of methods with fewer side effects and that are safer and are more effective.
- Pill for men: One exciting new development is a hormonal contraceptive method for men. The male birth control pill manipulates steroid hormones to decrease sperm development.
- Injection for men: A reversible male birth control method, injections of progestin every 3 months suppressed sperm production in an Australian study. Because this hormone reduces a man's sex drive, implants were placed under the men's skin every 4 months.
- Implants: Newer methods of implants that go under the skin are on the horizon.
- Implanon is a single-rod implant that is 4 cm long and 2 mm in diameter. Its more potent hormones would stop ovulation (release of an egg) in women. The implant is expected to last 3 years. In studies, so far no pregnancies have happened while women were testing this implant. It is not yet approved for use.
- Another implant (known as Uniplant) is being tested. It would work in place for as long as 1 year.
- A biodegradable implant, Capnor, is being tested. Because it dissolves, there is no need to remove it. Birth control protection would last for 1 year.
- Biodegradable pellet implants are currently undergoing testing. They dissolve within 2 years. Insertion of the pellets has been demonstrated to be simple; however, if the woman wishes for removal several months later, removal has been noted to be difficult.
- Diaphragm: Lea's Shield is a 1-size-fits-all device like a diaphragm. It will soon be available in the United States. This device consists of a 1-way valve that allows air to escape during placement, thus creating a suction effect against the cervix. Fluids can flow in one direction, out of the vagina, so uterine and cervical fluids can be released into the vaginal canal, but sperm cannot enter.
- Tubal ligation, new methods: A few potential methods of tubal sterilization are under investigation. One of these new developments includes chemical scarring of the fallopian tubes. The scarring is a result of a combination of phenol and a thickening agent and phenol quinacrine that ultimately leads to blockage of the tubes. Another nonsurgical form of tubal sterilization uses chemical plugs. Approved for use in Canada, the gluelike substance is placed into the fallopian tube. A reversible chemical plug also can be created by the injection of silicone into the fallopian tubes. The silicone eventually hardens but can be removed later. Chemical scarring and plugs are being tested as potential methods of vasectomy as well.
- Vaccine: A pregnancy vaccine is one of the most controversial and exciting forms of birth control under development. The pregnancy vaccine stimulates an immune response against sperm so that fertilization does not occur.
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
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