21 April 1999

New permanent contraceptive for women

After encouraging test results in Australia, a new permanent contraceptive device for women will be tested in Europe and the United States. The new method is quick and easy. It requires no incision or anaesthetic and takes just 20 minutes to complete.

It is based on a device one millimetre long and two millimetres wide, which works like a "plug" placed in the uterine end of fallopian tubes. It has been developed by the American company Conceptus Inc, in collaboration with Australian reproductive medicine specialist, Dr John Kerin, a pioneer of in-vitro fertilisation in South Australia in the 1970s. Dr. Kerin conducted a small trial on 15 women over an 18 month period at the Queen Elizabeth and Ashworth Hospitals in Adelaide.

"We pass a very small telescope called a hysterosope into the cavity of the uterus, and we can then go up to the openings of each fallopian tube which is about a millimetre in diameter. And then along a little channel in the telescope we can pass a little screw-like device into the tube, release it, it springs open and blocks the tube," Dr Kerin said.

Under the procedure the patient is fully conscious and is able to observe the operation on a television screen.

Then, after a brief observational period, they can return home.

The traditional sterilisation procedure for women is tubal ligation, normally done in a day surgery under general anaesthetic, with two surgical incisions and a three to six hour post-operative observation period. This procedure leaves woman feeling uncomfortable for a day or two. In contrast, the only discomfort from the new technique was menstrual-like cramps for two to eight hours, which could be readily treated with aspirin-based drugs.

The device, called STOP, was made from flexible, non-toxic bio-compatible "space-age metal". This material has no reaction with the human body, Dr. Kerin claimed.

The technique was considered irreversible because removal of the device after a period of time could expose a "flattened" area of the fallopian tube's lining, which might increase the woman's risk of a tubal implantation should she become pregnant.