(KCPW News) University of Utah researchers are working on a molecular condom that can help women protect themselves from HIV. Patrick Kiser, an associate professor of bioengineering, says the “condom” is really a gel that changes its structure when it comes into contact with semen.
“The idea was that we would use the fluid that contains the virus to trigger a change in the polymer that would make it less permeable to the virus and therefore act as a barrier,” Kiser says. “And that’s why we use the word molecular condom.”
Kiser says the difference in the pH level would trigger the barrier. He says the gel will probably be designed to deliver an anti-HIV medication that would provide even more protection. And he says it would not irritate the woman’s vaginal wall, which would actually increase the risk of HIV.
Women in developing nations are at higher risk of contracting HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, Kiser says up to 60 percent of women are HIV-positive. He says a vaginal gel would give women more power to protect themselves than relying on their partner to use a condom.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with condoms. They’re a very effective method of preventing most sexually-transmitted diseases, and in particular HIV. But for a woman to protect herself from HIV, she needs to negotiate condom use with her partner,” Kiser says. “And particularly in the developing world, this is not always an available strategy for women, where condom use is not as common.”
Cost is another concern for women in impoverished nations. Kiser says the gel would cost less than 10 cents per application. However, human testing on the new HIV-preventing gel is at least five years away.