Developing products with multiple health benefits
Many of the Council's contraceptives also prevent or treat certain health conditions. These products could make major contributions to global health by reducing risk of breast or prostate cancer, reducing HIV infection or transmission, or protecting neural tissue.
Here are three examples of the Council's work:
- Combining contraception and HIV prevention: For many women, particularly in countries with high HIV prevalence, preventing HIV can be as important as preventing pregnancy. Microbicides—substances (for example, gels, films, or vaginal rings) that could substantially reduce acquisition of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections—are a promising approach. Council scientists are developing a combined microbicide/contraceptive gel that could be used for intermittent or emergency contraception.
- Preventing pregnancy and providing breast health benefits: Council scientists are developing a contraceptive vaginal ring that uses a novel compound called Ulipristal, which may help protect breast tissue from abnormal growth. Our studies, examining both normal and cancerous breast cells, suggest that Ulipristal is safe for normal cells and reduces the abnormal cell growth seen in some breast cancers.
- Identifying new benefits of birth control: Enhancing the body's ability to repair the myelin sheaths of nerve cells is a major therapeutic challenge in demyelinating diseases like multiple sclerosis. Council studies show that Nestorone®, a versatile synthetic progestin similar to the natural hormone progesterone, is safe for healthy users and that it protects nerves and promotes remyelination of nerve axons. Many of the contraceptive products under development at the Council employ Nestorone.
"These studies are pointing the way to new and varied benefits of the hormones used in contraceptives," says Patricia L. Morris, Population Council director of biomedical research.