Researchers, led by Kim Woodrow at the bioengineering lab of the University of Washington, have produced electrically spun cloth with nanometer-sized fibers that can dissolve and release drugs to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. The fabric is formed through electrospinning, which uses an electric field to turn jets of fluids into fibers so thin that they cannot be seen with the naked eye. The fibers can be made from a variety of polymers, made thicker or thinner as needed to dissolve, hold their shape, or deliver one or several drugs at the same time. The meshes of the fibers can be shaped in different ways to create a physical barrier like a diaphragm or cervical cap or a fast-dissolving device such as vaginal contraceptive films that are wrapped over a finger and inserted into the vagina. The films dissolve on contact with moisture similar to breath strips that melt in the mouth.
The team tried various compounds including glycerol monolaurate, a food and cosmetic additive which has been shown to inhibit transmission of HIV and other viruses in mucus. The study showed that this compound also has spermicidal properties. According to Woodrow, the long-term goal is to create a technology that can provide contraception and HIV prevention simultaneously. It is also important that women can control the products and use them discreetly without having to negotiate with their partners.
Woodrow stated that the team has been thinking about Africa, where the majority of the 34 million people with HIV live. She also noted that the technology could be adapted easily to meet the needs in different places in the United States, by providing an easy birth control method that would also protect against STDs. She is very interested in delivering nonhormonal chemical contraceptives in ways that are as effective as the hormones, but without the adverse effects.
The study, "Drug-Eluting Fibers for HIV-1 Inhibition and Contraception," was published online in the journal PLoS ONE (7(11): e49792. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049792).
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