By Mariel Sokolov
Featuring Dr. Kelle Harbert Moley and Antonina Frolova
More than 37 million women in the United States alone are currently using some sort of birth control. By far the most popular form of birth control is “the pill”, a combined hormonal contraceptive that is taken daily to prevent pregnancy. But the pill is a chore to administer. It must be taken at the same time every day or will lose its effectiveness rather quickly. Because of this issue, some women choose to use intrauterine devices (IUDs). IUDs require very little maintenance and time apart from their initial installation, but they share a key drawback with birth control pills : hormonal IUDs work by releasing a huge influx of levonorgestrel, a synthetic hormone, into a woman’s body in order to block sperm from entering the cervix. However, as with many hormone-based treatments, IUDs can result in severe side effects, like irregular menstrual cycles, mental health changes, and ovarian cysts.
In response, researchers at Washington University have developed a non-hormone based IUD. Here’s how it works: In order for a woman to become pregnant, an embryo needs to implant itself in the lining of her uterus. For implantation to take place, a series of changes in the lining of the uterus, known as decidualization, are triggered by the hormone progesterone. After decidualization, the lining of the uterus, or endometrium, is ready for the implantation of the embryo.
Dr. Kelle Harbert Moley and Antonina Frolova of Washington University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology realized that any process that inhibits decidualization will prevent pregnancy because the embryo will simply not be able to implant into the uterus. During the course of their work, Moley and Frolova have shown that inhibitors of the pentose phosphate pathway (a common type of signalling pathway) can be used to stop decidualization and therefore can function as a non-hormonal contraceptive.
This development holds much promise in the real world. When tested in mice, the PPP inhibitor successfully prevented the embryo from attaching to the uterine wall. A second set of studies also showed that pentose phosphate pathway inhibitors delivered locally can also prevent ovulation, and upon removal of the inhibitor mice regain fertility with no effect on offspring. This means that perhaps a new type of PPP-based IUD or some internal implant may be able to effectively provide contraception without the side effects of a hormone-based system.
The contraceptive market is expected to reach a value of $19.6 billion dollars by 2020. There is only one other non-hormonal IUD currently on the market. Known as ParaGard, this competitor uses a T-shaped plastic frame with copper wire coiled around the stem and two copper sleeves along the arms that slowly release copper around the lining of the uterus. ParaGard produces an inflammatory reaction in the uterus that is toxic to sperm, which helps prevent fertilization.” First used in 1984, ParaGard unfortunately comes with a myriad of side effects due to its rather toxic mechanism of action. Anemia, backache, bleeding between periods, cramps, inflammation of the vagina (vaginitis), pain during sex, severe menstrual pain, heavy bleeding, and vaginal discharge can all occur. Needless to say, another option for birth control that would eliminate both hormonal side effects and the side effects of the non-hormonal alternative would take over the market and improve the lives of thousands of women worldwide.
Patent Information :
Patent No. : US 20130065853 A1
For more information about the researchers/inventors :
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Lab Address :
WUSM Obstetrics and Gynecology
660 S. Euclid Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110
Edited by Jeff Bai