When we first reported on the Essure Contraceptive System five years ago, it was a revolution for patients like Holly Wood. At 42, she says she knew she didn't want to have any more children, but she didn't want surgery either, "You know, to have the cuts and all that, and I was a little bit leery."
Instead of a tubal ligation, Essure allows gynecologists to implant a tiny coil into the fallopian tubes through the cervix, with no incision. Within one to three months, scar tissue forms around the coils, permanently closing off the fallopian tubes, creating a permanent barrier between sperm and egg. It's now been implanted in more than 600,000 women worldwide.
"They choose it because it allows them to have the confidence that they will not get pregnant without having to go through a surgical procedure," said Dr. Karen Callen, senior partner at Golden Gate Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Dr. Callen says the current procedure requires a follow-up imaging test to confirm the tubes are successfully blocked. For the three months before that confirmation, she notes that patients need to use alternate means of birth control, "It's good because it gives us confidence we've actually accomplished what we set out to accomplish. One the other hand we live in a society where we expect to be able to get results quickly."
But now Conceptus, the Mountain View company that manufactures Essure, believes it has the technology to provide the same permanent birth control benefits without a waiting period or even a follow-up imaging test.
Conceptus CEO Keith Grossman says the next generation device includes a system to temporarily block the fallopian tubes while the scar tissue is forming around the coil, "The next generation system has an additional mechanical portion of the design called a hydrogel."
Grossman says that hydrodgel plug is placed near the tip of the coil, and is delivered simultaneously on the same instrument. Once in place, he says it provides immediate blockage, "Because it offers day zero contraception, there is no 90 day confirmation test. There is no duplicate form of birth control for 90 days. It's incrementally more convenient for the woman."
He says the new system has delivered the same 99.8 percent effectiveness in early testing as the original. And without the waiting period, or necessary imaging tests, Grossman believes it could eventually be a more practical option for patients in rural areas or the developing world, "It's certainly effective, efficient, inexpensive permanent birth control. It's something that would be very valuable throughout the world."
Dr. Callen adds, "I think it lends itself well to being a widely available technique."
A commercially available version is still a few years away. Current trials are taking place in Canada and Mexico. Conceptus expects to begin trials in the U.S., including here in the Bay Area, sometime next year.
Written and produced by Tim Didion