New hydrogel condom could ‘revolutionize’ HIV fight
A new hydrogel condom could help in the global fight against HIV, experts believe.
A team of scientists in Texas are developing the new type of condom, with the aim of making the sexual health aid something people ‘actually want to use’.
Their design is not made of latex, but instead from a new material, a strong elastic polymer called hydrogel.
It is a gel made primarily of water, and is already widely used, in contact lenses and other medical uses.
Dr Mahua Choudhury, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, said: ‘Some peopke are allergic to latex, and others are just not comfortable with it.
‘Therefore, we wanted to create a novel material.’
Last year, there were around 36.9 million people living with HIV, and about two million new infections.
The virus, which causes AIDS, is commonly spread through sexual activity.
And, while antiretroviral therapy has turned the once-universally fatal condition into a chronic one, 1.2 million people died as a result of AIDS-related diseases in 2014.
The UN group tasked with combating HIV and AIDS is calling for a ‘rapid scale-up of essential HIV prevention and treatment approaches’.
Dr Choudhury said it is well accepted that condoms are one key way to help prevent transmission, but they are not a perfect solution, she said.
She said it is vital that people want to use condoms.
To enhance the disease-preventing abilities of the hydrogel design, Dr Choudhury and her team have enmeshed a plant-based antioxidant that has been shown to have anti-HIV properties.
She said this is designed to be especially important if the condom were to break.
‘If there is an accident or something happens, this antioxidant will be released and prevent the replication of HIV,’ Dr Choudhury said.
The antioxidant also has stimulant properties that can enhance the sexual experience and feelings of pleasure by promoting several physiological stimulation, all of which can help maintain erection and increase sexual pleasure.
Dr Choudhury said: ‘If we succeed, it will revolutionise the HIV prevention initiative.
‘We are not only making a novel material for condoms to prevent the HIV infection, but we are also aiming to eradicate this infection if possible.’
Finally, like all condoms, this one would also help prevent other sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy, she said.
Last year, there were around 36.9 million people living with HIV, illustrated, and about two million new infections
For her proposal for this new type of condom, Dr Choudhury was one of 54 applicants selected out of 1,700 to receive the Grand Challenge in Global Health award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which funds individuals worldwide to solve persistent global health challenges.
The new condom is on the brink of being ready.
Dr Choudhury and her team have created the hydrogel and embedded the antioxidant, and it is going through the patent process now.
‘We are trying to find how fast the enmeshed antioxidant can release,’ she said.
‘And we don’t know if it will automatically release, or if you have to apply pressure.’
This is something she and her team will look at in the testing process, which will happen in the next six months or so.
Dr Choudhury hopes the condom can be made available to everyone, especially those who otherwise might not have access, such as people in rural areas of developing countries.
‘If you can make it really affordable, and really appealing,’ she said. ‘It could be a life-saving thing.’