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Under the sea: Searching for novel non-hormonal contraception

Today there is no shortage of birth control options on the market; however, the non-hormonal options are limited, typically less effective or come with some undesirable side effects. Enter chitosan…a sugar from the shells of shellfish now being tested as a topical reinforcement of the cervical mucus for a non-hormonal contraceptive method.

Chitosan is derived from crustaceans like shrimp, crab and lobster and is currently used for various biomedical applications for its antioxidant activity, cholesterol- and triglyceride-trapping and antibacterial effects. This chitosan gel is designed to be injected into the vagina where it cross-links with resident mucin molecules, effectively reinforcing the existing natural cervical mucus barrier and preventing sperm cells from reaching the egg. This gel offers a unique mechanism of action, differing from the current FDA-approved gel that alters the vaginal pH to prevent sperm travel.

So far, the chitosan-enforced gel has been tested in vitro and in vivo in a group of eight ovulating sheep, resulting in significantly reduced sperm numbers and no damage or irritation of the vaginal epithelium (common side effects of non-hormonal mechanical contraceptives). While many hormonal contraceptives come with uncomfortable or painful systemic side effects, the likelihood of serious adverse effects from the chitosan gel is low given the mechanism of action and safety in its other biomedical applications.

While still in its infancy, the development of a novel non-hormonal birth control is promising for many individuals who want better alternatives to hormonal birth control. We’ll be keeping our eye on this as it completes its preclinical studies and enters the clinical trial space.

Written by Hannah Wellings


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