Gel could replace contraceptive pill26th October 2010
A contraceptive gel that is rubbed on the skin like moisturiser could soon replace the oral contraceptive pill, US researchers say.
The gel can be rubbed daily onto the skin of the arms, legs, shoulders or abdomen, and delivers a dose of Nestorone, a new type of synthetic chemical that mimics the hormone progesterone.
Daily use of the gel prevents pregnancy, according to researchers, who say it could offer an alternative to the combined contraceptive pill that bypasses the side-effects of weight gain and nausea.
Breastfeeding mothers will also be able to use it, because its hormone levels are unlikely to interfere with the supply of milk.
The gel is similar to the contraceptive skin patch, except that it is invisible, unlike the small, beige plaster, which can also fall off.
The gel is being developed with Antares Pharma drug firm, and provides a steady supply of hormones through the skin, which prevent the woman from producing an egg every month.
If clinical trials continue to show good results, the gel could then be on its way to market, according to study leader Ruth Merkatz, director of clinical development of reproductive health at the not-for-profit Population Council research centre in New York.
Merkatz's team tested the gel in trials involving 18 women in their 20s to 30s.
None fell pregnant during the seven-month trial, and Merkatz said the gel had "very high acceptability."
The optimum dose for daily contraception was just 3 mg daily, researchers concluded.
The gel could be applied in such small quantities, once daily, and was effective in the small study, Merkatz said.
Merkatz will soon present her teams findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).
She said the gel could enhance women's choices about the different ways to administer contraception.
Nestorone also contains a type of oestrogen that is chemically identical to that produced by a woman's body.
The study found that none of the participants experienced negative side-effects typical with oral contraceptives, such as weight gain and nausea.
However, Merkatz said the trial was an early one, and that the gel would be tested in many more women.
Natika Halil, director of information at the Family Planning Association (FPA), welcomed the findings.
She said FPA research showed that around two million women in Britain alone were unhappy with their contraception.
Women would benefit from improved choices and options, she said, adding that the gel would not suit everyone.
Simon Blake, chief executive of sexual health charity Brook, said young women needed more choices about contraception.
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