Bill Gates Funds Female Condom That Delivers Anti-HIV Drug
Researchers at the University of Washington are working on a new form of contraception for women that they believe will be safer, cheaper and "more discrete" than using condoms or taking pills.
The new contraceptive will consist of an "electrically spun cloth with nanometer-sized fibers can dissolve to release drugs," which would provide protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $1 million for the project last month.
"Our dream is to create a product women can use to protect themselves from HIV infection and unintended pregnancy," Kim Woodrow, a UW assistant professor of bioengineering and one of the researchers, said in a statement. "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 electrospun cloth could be inserted directly in the body or be used as a coating on vaginal rings or other products.
"At the time of sex, are people going to actually use it? That's where having multiple options really comes into play," Emily Krogstad, co-author of the project, said. "Depending on cultural background and personal preferences, certain populations may differ in terms of what form of technology makes the most sense for them."
Here's how it works, according to a press release:
At a lab meeting last year, Woodrow presented the concept, and co-authors and Cameron Ball, both first-year graduate students, pursued the idea.
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.
"This method allows controlled release of multiple compounds," Ball said. "We were able to tune the fibers to have different release properties."
One of the fabrics they made dissolves within minutes, potentially offering users immediate, discrete protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Another dissolves gradually over a few days, providing an option for sustained delivery, more like the birth-control pill, to provide contraception and guard against HIV.