A contraceptive computer chip that can be turned on and off by remote control may be the future of birth control.
Developed at MIT and backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the microchip, just 20mm by 20mm by 7mm in size (that’s less than an inch wide, by less than an inch long), would be implanted under the skin, where it would release small daily doses (30 micrograms) of the pregnancy-blocking hormone levonorgestrel.
Current contraceptive implants are way more invasive, requiring an outpatient procedure or clinic visit to activate and deactivate them. They also usually have to be replaced every three to five years.
The microchip implant would still require a brief procedure, but it would only need to be replaced once every 16 years, and ladies won’t have to go to the doctor to have it activated or deactivated — because the chip’s on and off switch could be flipped via wireless remote control.
The project is being submitted for pre-clinical testing in the United States in 2015, and the “competitively priced” chips could go on sale as soon as 2018.
But, before you get too excited, you should know that there’s room for potential disaster. As with all technology, we can’t forget the danger of hackers.
Next on the researchers’ list is ensuring the absolute security of the microchip to prevent activation or deactivation by another person without the woman’s consent or knowledge. In other words, they’re figuring out a way to keep hackers — or scheming friends — away from the birth control microchip.
“Communication with the implant has to occur at skin contact level distance, so someone across the room cannot re-programme your implant,” says Dr. Robert Farra, a project researcher at MIT. “Then we have secure encryption. That prevents someone from trying to interpret or intervene between the communications.”
As long as the device is safe, many think it could go beyond contraception and be applied to humanitarian projects — perhaps being used to administer various medicines or drugs around the world.
“The value to the patient of these types of implant can be huge, and we foresee a future in which a huge range of conditions are treated through smart implanted systems,” says Simon Karger, head of the surgical and interventional business at Cambridge Consultants.