This Tiny Implant Could Provide Remote-Control Birth Control for 16 Years at a Time

Microchip implants under the skin could last for 16 years

GARO/phanie/Phanie Sarl/Corbis

In the next few years, women could have a new option for contraception—an implantable microchip that can be turned on and off. Backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the new device is very small—just 20 mm by 20 mm by 7mm—and contains a reservoir of hormones that is released every day. 

Implanted just under the skin, the chip is designed to last for 16 years. When a woman wanted to conceive, she'd be able to turn the hormone off, using a small remote control. Other contraceptive implants on the market require a trip to the doctor to deactivate them. The remote control is designed to give women more control over their reproductive choices, but it does raise security concerns. Could hacking a contraceptive implant be the future version of using a safety pin to puncture a condom? The microchip’s manufacturers say that it’s not likely. 

"Communication with the implant has to occur at skin contact level distance," Dr Farra told the BBC. "Someone across the room cannot re-programme your implant. Then we have secure encryption. That prevents someone from trying to interpret or intervene between the communications." 

A more practical problem: keeping track of the remote control for 16 whole years. 

The company developing the chip, MicroCHIPS, has already tested a similar device to treat osteoporosis. Pre-clinical trails of the contraceptive implant are expected to start next year, and the device could go on sale as soon as 2018. 

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