Researchers from the University of Washington have created a next-generation condom that protects against pregnancy, prevents HIV, and then promptly disappears.
The scientists just published a paper in PLoS One detailing the condoms, which consist of electrically spun cloth of nanometer-sized fibers essentially woven out of HIV-preventing medication.
The nanofibers are created by electrospinning, a process in which an electric field is used to send streams of fluid through the air. The fibers created can be manipulated to alter the material’s solubility, strength and even basic shape. Because of this versatility, the study’s authors write, the nanofibers may be better at delivering drugs than existing mediums like gels and pills.
“Our dream is to create a product women can use to protect themselves from HIV infection and unintended pregnancy,” co-author Kim Woodrow, a UW assistant professor of bioengineering, 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 condoms can be woven out of medicines that prevent HIV infections while also acting as barriers that effectively keep sperm out. Once used, the electrospun condoms are designed to dissolve either within minutes or gradually over a few days, providing more sustained delivery similar to the birth-control pill.
The female condoms could be inserted directly into the vagina or used as a coating for other birth control devices such as the vaginal ring.
While the rapidly-dissolving condom won’t hit the shelves anytime soon, the research team was recently granted almost $1 million to pursue the technology by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Read more about the group’s work here.