In some sub-Sahara African and south Asian countries, as many as 60 percent of women are infected with HIV-AIDS. Stopping the spread of AIDS and the deaths caused by the disease is a major challenge, particularly as women in these cultures are not empowered to request that their partners wear condoms or to just say 'no.'
But bioengineers at the University of Utah School of Engineering have developed a molecular condom that women can use without the permission of their partners. The study, showing the behavior of the HIV fighting gel, is published in this week's journal of Advanced Functional Materials.
"The first step in the complicated process of HIV (human
immunodeficiency virus) infection in a woman is the virus diffusing
from semen to vaginal tissue. We want to stop that first step," says
Patrick Kiser, a bioengineering professor at Utah and lead author of the study. "We have created the first
vaginal gel designed to prevent movement of the AIDS virus. This is
unique. There's nothing like it."
Once the gel is inserted into the vagina, it turns semi-solid in the presense of semen, trapping the AIDS virus particles in microscopically small mesh. Kiser and his colleagues had developed a similar gel in 2006, but the gel was activated by the temperature of the vagina, rather than by the pH value of the sperm, and the extreme heat in Africa made the gel an unreliable AIDS preventative.
Scientists at Northwestern University, who also contributed to the new gel condom study, did microscopic tests suggesting that by adding certain anti-AIDS drugs to the gel formula, the gel would provide even greater potection to the user.
Additionally, the gel condom should block other viruses and sperm, Kiser suggests. It could work as a contraceptive and may prevent herpes
viruses and human papillomavirus (HPV), a major cause of cervical
It is hoped that human testing of the gel condom can start soon, but it will take three to five years for testing, and then another few years before it is widely available.
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