Contraceptives like the Pill are only effective if you remember to take them. In an effort to integrate into the lives of women more seamlessly, researchers at Georgia Tech have developed contraceptive patches that can be attached to jewelry.

Contraceptive patches have been on the market for decades, but to work properly they usually require a pretty strict routine of applying and changing them. So the Georgia Tech team figured that incorporating it into jewelry might make it more convenient, particularly for some women who already wear jewelry regularly. At the same time, hiding it under a watch would be more discreet.

"The more contraceptive options that are available, the more likely it is that the needs of individual women can be met," says Mark Prausnitz, an author of the study. "Because putting on jewelry may already be part of a woman's daily routine, this technique may facilitate compliance with the drug regimen. This technique could more effectively empower some women to prevent unintended pregnancies."

The contraceptive drug levonorgestrel is loaded into a small patch, which has an adhesive on one side to stick to jewelry and a skin adhesive on the other. This is then attached to the part of a piece of jewelry that comes into contact with skin, where it can slowly release the hormones into the bloodstream over the hours that it's worn.

The patches themselves are designed to be universal, working with essentially any piece of jewelry. After all, the convenience factor is lost if it doesn't fit on someone's favorite pieces. That said, the team points out that the method works best for jewelry like earrings and watches, which stay pressed against the skin for the whole day.

To test out the contraceptive jewelry, the researchers stuck 1-cm2 (0.2 in2) patches on the backs of earrings and put them into pigs' ears. After that was found to successfully transfer the drug into the skin, the team then experimented with hairless rats. They wore them for 16 hours before they were taken off for eight hours, to simulate women taking the jewelry off overnight.

The team found that levels of levonorgestrel stayed well above the contraceptive level in humans over that time. Even during the eight-hour stretches where the patches were removed, those levels dipped noticeably but still stayed high enough to work.

The next steps for the team are to test the system on humans. Whether or not women would actually want to use them is another matter, but as the researchers say, having more options is a good thing.

"We need to understand not only the effectiveness and economics of contraceptive jewelry, but also the social and personal factors that come into play for women all around the world," says Prausnitz. "We would have to make sure that this contraceptive jewelry concept is something that women would actually want and use."

While the jewelry patches might be handy for some people, other contraceptive patch designs sound more convenient in general. Just a few months ago, some of the same team members showed off a microneedle contraceptive patch that only needs to be applied for five seconds, once a month.

The research was published in the Journal of Controlled Release.

Source: Georgia Tech

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