Researchers at the University of Washington are close to developing a new condom that would block sexually transmitted diseases, stop unwanted pregnancies, release preventative drugs after use. This so-called "hypercondom" would also dissolve inside the body.
The female condoms are targeted for use by women and are made possible through a technology called "electrospinning," which creates fibers from liquid inside an electric field, according to the tech blog Gizmodo. Not only would the condom block sperm, The Week reports it could time-release a potent cocktail of anti-HIV drugs and hormonal contraceptives.
The research was sponsored in part by a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pursue the new “electrospinning” technology. It was published last week in the Public Library of Science’s open-access journal PLoS One.
“This method allows controlled release of multiple compounds," Cameron Ball, a first-year graduate student involved in the research, said in a release. "We were able to tune the fibers to have different release properties."
The release described how scientists developed the material:
They first dissolved polymers approved by the Food and Drug Administration and antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV to create a gooey solution that passes through a syringe. As the stream encounters the electric field it stretches to create thin fibers measuring 100 to several thousand nanometers that whip through the air and eventually stick to a collecting plate (one nanometer is about one 25-millionth of an inch). The final material is a stretchy fabric that can physically block sperm or release chemical contraceptives and antivirals.
In summary: cloth-like fibers can be woven from medicine into ultra-thin webs that also block STIs and prevent unwanted pregnancies.
“Our dream is to create a product women can use to protect themselves from HIV infection and unintended pregnancy," said Kim Woodrow, a UW assistant professor of bioengineering. "We have the drugs to do that. It’s really about delivering them in a way that makes them more potent, and allows a woman to want to use it."
The new rubbers would also be a greener choice because they wouldn't end up in a landfill after use.