Pharmaceutical Jewelry Could Offer a New Family Planning Approach

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology developed a technique for administering contraceptive hormones through ‘pharmaceutical jewelry’.

report published in the Journal of Controlled Release describes a technique developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology for administering contraceptive hormones through transdermal backings on jewelry such as earrings, wristwatches, rings, and necklaces. The contraceptive hormones are contained in patches applied to portions of the jewelry in contact with the skin, allowing the drugs to be absorbed into the body.

Contraceptive jewelry adapts transdermal patch technology that is already used to administer drugs that prevent motion sickness, support smoking cessation, and control the symptoms of menopause, but have never been incorporated into jewelry before, according to the institute. Contraceptive patches are already available, but Mark Prausnitz, a regents professor and the J. Erskine Love Jr. chair in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, believes pairing them with jewelry may be an attractive alternative to some women by enabling more discreet use of the drug delivery technology.

“The more contraceptive options that are available, the more likely it is that the needs of individual women can be met,” said Prausnitz in a March 25, 2019 press release. “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.”

Postdoctoral Fellow Mohammad Mofidfar, Senior Research Scientist Laura O’Farrell and Prausnitz tested patches adhered to earring backs, about one square centimeter in area, and placed them tightly on the skin of animal models-first on ears from pigs. Test patches mounted on earring backs containing the hormone levonorgestrel were also applied to the skin of hairless rats. The dose delivered by a patch is generally proportional to the area of skin contact.

To simulate removal of the earrings during sleep, the researchers applied the patches for 16 hours, then removed them for eight hours. Testing suggested that even though levels dropped while the earrings were removed, the patch could produce necessary amounts of the hormone in the bloodstream. The researchers believe that 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 tested earring patch consisted of 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 of the patch contains the contraceptive drug in solid form. The outer layer is a skin adhesive to help stick to skin so the hormone can be transferred. Once in the skin, the drug can move into the bloodstream and circulate through the body.

Though no human testing has been done to date, initial testing suggests the contraceptive jewelry may deliver sufficient amounts of hormone to provide contraception, according to Georgia Tech. One goal for the new technique is to improve user compliance with drug regimens that require regular dosages. The jewelry-based technique might also be used for delivering other drugs through the skin.

“There is a lot of experience with making and using conventional transdermal patches,” Prausnitz added. “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.”

If the technique ultimately is used for contraception in humans, the earring back would need to be changed periodically, likely on a weekly basis. The contraceptive jewelry was originally designed 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, Prausnitz predicts the technology may be attractive to women all over the world.

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

Though transdermal drug-delivery patches have been available since 1979, testing would be required to determine whether the earring patch is safe and effective. In addition, research would be required to determine whether the concept would be attractive to women in different cultures.

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

The technique could potentially be used to deliver other 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 said. “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. Making [contraceptives] more appealing [through pharmaceutical jewelry] should make it easier to remember to use [contraceptives].”

This proof-of-concept research was supported by the United States Agency for International Development.

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology