Molecular condom to block HIV24th August 2009
Scientists have created a gelatinous substance that acts like a condom in the presence of human sperm by forming a tight, impenetrable mesh.
The gel could have profound implications for the transmission of HIV among populations.
Because the 'molecular condom' is not particularly subject to overall temperature changes, it might be useful in fighting the spread of HIV in Africa.
Designed by scientists at the University of Utah in the United States, the so-called molecular condom has yet to be subjected to clinical trials.
Patrick Kiser, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Utah, said that the gel does not solidify prematurely due to the relatively low pH (between 3.8 and 4.5 on average) of vaginal fluid.
If it did so, it would coat the walls of the vagina and the woman’s cells would still be vulnerable to infection by HIV.
The presence of semen makes vaginal fluid less acidic, since the pH of semen is between 7.2 and 8.0 on average.
Scientists hope the gel would turn semisolid only after the man has ejaculated, due to the big difference in pH between sperm and vaginal fluid.
Kiser said that his team has shown that the gel prevents HIV from moving deeper into the body, but that their plan would involve putting an antiretroviral agent in the gel to act as another level of protection.
Salim Karim, director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), said that Kiser's team will need to demonstrate the gel's ability to withstand the rigours of human use.
However, he said that it could increase women’s ability to protect themselves.
Kiser hopes that his team can turn the gel into something that will keep its special properties for up to one day after it is applied.
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