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A team of bioengineers has published a paper detailing a potential new contraceptive that protects against both HIV and pregnancy through drug release.

The study, published in PLoS One, was released the same week as World Aids day, which draws attention to the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide, and the 1.7 million AIDs-related deaths that occurred in 2011.

The University of Washington (UW) team set out to create an alternative to the condom, which, despite being the only potential barrier to both HIV and pregnancy, is too often not used. Deciding that delayed drug delivery would present the best option, the team set about engineering a dissolvable material that could be inserted directly into the vagina or used to cover women’s birth control apparatus. The idea is that it would not only block the sperm (see above image), but release antiviral drugs and spermicides.

“We have the drugs to do it,” said Kim Woodrow, the UW bioengineering assistant professor who first suggested the method. “It’s really about delivering them in a way that makes them more potent, and allows a woman to want to use it.”

To create something that would be strong enough to do the job and carry the antiviral and contraceptive drugs, yet delicate enough to dissolve when necessary, the team turned to nanofibers. Generated through electrospinning (where an electric field is used to send streams of fine, charged fluid through the air) nanofibers can be built in infinite different formations. It can be manipulated to be as soluble or strong as necessary, and can be adapted to carry different drugs.

Woodrow, along with co-authors Thanyanan Chaowanachan, Emily Krogstad, Cameron Ball, dissolved FDA-approved polymers and HIV-treating antiretroviral drugs together. The combined solution was passed over an electric field from a syringe in a fine flow; the field stretches it out into fibers measuring 100 to 1,000 nanometers. Once formed the fibers fall on to a hard surface to become a solid, mesh structure (in the shape of the chosen hard surface) that can be so finely tuned, it can be engineered to release drugs or spermicides in minutes or gradually over the course of several days (as with some vaccines). Different fibers can be loaded with different drugs, so that the various strands that make up a finished product protect against a variety of diseases.

Although the team believes it has come up with a viable alternative to the condom, one vital questions remains unanswered. “At the time of sex, are people going to actually use it?” asked Krogstad. “That’s where having multiple options really comes into play. Depending on cultural background and personal preferences, certain populations may differ in terms of what form of technology makes the most sense for them.”

The dissolvable material has impressed so much, the team was awarded $1 million (£600,000) by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for research and development. Funds will go towards expanding the team, purchasing an electrospinning machine and testing out different combinations of antiretroviral and birth control drugs, before scaling production.



source/credit: this article was previously published


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