Published: Thu, December 05, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Key brain region smaller in birth control pill users

Key brain region smaller in birth control pill users

Oral contraceptives are one of the most popular forms of birth control: In the United States, about 12 percent of women between 15 and 49 use them. Pills of all sorts generally pass through the body in a day.

Langer and Traverso's team first used the technology to try turning daily drugs for malaria and HIV into capsules that lasted a week or two. As they slowly dissolve over weeks, they release the drug continuously.

"We found a dramatic difference in the size of the brain structures between women who were taking oral contraceptives and those who were not", said Lipton. In a test with pigs, they found that the monthly pill released about the same amount of levonorgestrel in the blood each day as a daily pill.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has recently given the scientists almost £10m (€11.8m) to develop the pill so that it can be tested on humans, and doctors say that trials could start within three years.

After being swallowed, the capsule unfolds and slowly releases its drug payload in the stomach.

The team members built their new design based on their previous work, but spent some time trying to identify new polymers - large molecules with special chemical properties - that could survive the treacherous churnings of the stomach for a couple of weeks. "A once-monthly oral contraceptive would provide a discreet, noninvasive birth control option that could significantly improve medication adherence to give women more control over their health and family planning decisions".

"We developed this capsule system that looks like a starfish, that can stay in the stomach several days, weeks, even a month at a time", said Dr. Giovanni Traverso of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, a senior author of the study.

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The testing in pigs shows that the pill can achieve the same concentration of the drug in the bloodstream as taking the daily pill by gradually releasing the drug over time. They made it stronger and turned to long-lasting contraceptive implants for the materials to hold the hormone ingredient and let it gradually seep out. In contrast, levonorgestrel given by standard tablets only lasted a day. After three to four weeks, these linker polymers could be created to break down so that the contraption gets smaller and passes through the stomach and out of the body, Kirtane said. The researchers are working on ways to trigger the device arms to snap off - via changes in pH or temperature, for instance.

The team says they hope to begin human clinical trials of the new contraceptive drug delivery system within the next three to five years.

"Through the development of these technologies, we aim to transform people's experience with taking medications by making it easier, with more infrequent dosing in the first once-a-month, orally delivered drug system".

Langer and Traverso also noted some people might opt for the extended-release pill instead of more invasive options like intrauterine devices, which need to be inserted at the doctor's office.

Lyndra Therapeutics Inc., a MA company co-founded by Langer and Traverso, is further developing the monthly pill and multiple other uses for the technology.

This work was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation Grant No. OPP1139927.

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