Special backings on jewelry deliver birth control

(Credit: Getty Images)

A new proof-of-concept technique suggests special backings on jewelry could be a way to transfer birth control through the skin.

Initial testing suggests the contraceptive jewelry—such as earrings, wristwatches, rings, or necklaces—could deliver sufficient amounts of hormone to provide contraception, though researchers have yet to test the device on humans.

Researchers hope to improve user compliance with drug regimens that require regular dosages. Beyond contraceptives, the jewelry-based technique might also offer a way to deliver other drugs through the skin.

gold earring with back in palm of hand
An earring with a transdermal patch backing. The white ring is the patch containing the contraceptive hormone. (Credit: Mark Prausnitz/Georgia Tech)

“The more contraceptive options that are available, the more likely it is that the needs of individual women can be met,” says Mark Prausnitz, professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology.

“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.”

Contraceptive jewelry adapts transdermal patch technology already in use to administer drugs that prevent motion sickness, support smoking cessation, and to control the symptoms of menopause.

Contraceptive patches are already available, but Prausnitz believes pairing them with jewelry may prove attractive to some women—and allow more discreet use of the drug delivery technology.

“There is a lot of experience with making and using conventional transdermal patches. We are taking this established technology, making the patch smaller and using jewelry to help apply it. We think that earring patches can expand the scope of transdermal patches to provide additional impact.”

Earrings with hormones

Researchers tested the concept on animal models, first on the ears of pigs. They also applied test patches mounted on earring backs and containing the hormone levonorgestrel to the skin of hairless rats. To simulate removal of the earrings during sleep, the researchers applied the patches for 16 hours, then removed them for eight hours.

Test results suggest that even though levels dropped after removing the earrings, the patch still produced enough of the hormone in the bloodstream.

The earring patch includes three layers. One layer is impermeable and includes an adhesive to hold it onto an earring back, the underside of a wristwatch, or the inside surface of a necklace or ring. A middle layer contains the contraceptive drug in solid form. The outer layer is an adhesive to stick to skin.

Once in the skin, the drug moves into the bloodstream and circulates through the body. The earring back would need periodic changing, likely on a weekly basis, researchers say.

Use with any earrings

Researchers originally designed the contraceptive jewelry for use in developing countries where access to health care services may limit access to long-acting contraceptives such as injectables, implants, and IUDs. However, other women beyond that initial audience may find the concept attractive, Prausnitz says. “We think contraceptive jewelry could be appealing and helpful to women all around the world.”

The researchers tested patches adhered to earring backs, about one square centimeter in area, and placed them tightly on the skin of the test animals. Earring backs and watches may be most useful for administering drugs because they remain in close contact with the skin to allow drug transfer. The delivered dose is generally proportional to the area of skin contact.

“The advantage of incorporating contraceptive hormone into a universal earring back is that it can be paired with many different earrings,” Prausnitz says. “A woman could acquire these drug-loaded earring backs and then use them with various earrings she might want to wear.”

Beyond birth control

Though transdermal drug-delivery patches have been available since 1979, researchers would need to do testing to determine whether the earring patch is safe and effective—and if women in different cultures would find the concept attractive.

“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,” Prausnitz says. “We would have to make sure that this contraceptive jewelry concept is something that women would actually want and use.”

While the technique could potentially deliver other pharmaceuticals, it would only work with skin-permeable drugs that require administration of quantities small enough to fit into the patches.

“We think there are uses beyond contraceptive hormones, but there will always be a limitation that the drug has to be effective with a low enough dose to fit into the limited space in the patch,” Prausnitz says. “It also should be a drug that would benefit from continuous delivery from a patch and that is administered to a patient population interested in using pharmaceutical jewelry.

“Pharmaceutical jewelry introduces a novel delivery method that may make taking contraceptives more appealing. Making it more appealing should make it easier to remember to use it.”

The US Agency for International Development supported the work. The contents are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of FHI 360, USAID, or the United States Government. The research appears in the Journal of Controlled Release.

Source: Georgia Tech