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Surprising Science

Using Nanotechnology To Create An Alternative To Condoms

Researchers have received a grant to pursue the use of electrospinning to create a dissolvable material that, when inserted into the body, will deliver drugs either immediately or over a period of days.

What’s the Latest Development?

A team of researchers at the University of Washington has developed a material that is made from a liquid combination of polymers and drugs that was spun into nanometer-size fibers using an electric field. This method, known as electrospinning, created a very fine, stretchy, and dissolvable fabric that can be inserted into a woman’s body to provide varying degrees of protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The team has received a Gates Foundation grant to pursue the results of their study, which was published in this week’s PLOS ONE.

What’s the Big Idea?

Two types of fabrics were made, demonstrating the versatility of electrospinning: One dissolves within minutes, providing quick contraception, and the other dissolves over a period of days, offering sustained drug delivery. In addition, different fibers can be combined using a variety of drugs for even more protection. As is the case with all devices of this type, usability plays a role, says study co-author Emily Krogstad: “At the time of sex, are people going to actually use it? That’s where having multiple options really comes into play.” The study has largely focused on HIV prevention, and the team hopes to try out their technology among populations where the disease is most prevalent.

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