Nanofibers Could Replace Condoms In The Future, Aims To Empower Women

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Scientists at the University of Washington have developed a mesh of nanofibers that can provide effective contraception and prevent against HIV and other STDs.

There’s only one measure today to protect against HIV and unintended pregnancy: the condom, it is a multipurpose prevention technology (MPT) it provides a physical and a chemical barrier. While it’s an effective technology, it isn’t practical or preferred in most situations.  HIV is a major risk for women who have can’t always choose whether the partner wears protection.

To date, no single technology exists that women can use discreetly for simultaneous and effective prevention of STDs and pregnancy. Taking birth control pills isn’t a safe and effective solution: the hormones in the pill cause an imbalance of hormones in the female body, it causes a host of side effects, and simply missing a dose can be disastrous for couples.

Keeping that issue in mind, emerging technologies have tried to come up with MPT solutions; one of the most promising solution comes from the emerging field of nanotechnology. Scientists have produced a mesh of nanofibers embedded with spermicide and drugs that protect against HIV-1, HIV-2 and other STDs. These biodegradable nanofibers could theoretically be inserted into the vagina directly using devices, such as vaginal rings, and provide both a physical and a chemical barrier. The nanofibers can deliver the drugs much more effectively than current methods, once inserted, the nanofibers slowly release the drugs, and provide protection for an extensive period of time. So far, the nanofibers have been tested in the lab successfully.



Fluorescent Images taken 30 minutes after the insertion of  blank fibers (left) and fibers loaded with a colored dye (right).
Image credit: Kim Woodrow, WU


To make these nanofibers, scientists used a technique called electrospinning. They mix charged liquid polymers and antiretroviral (anti-HIV) drugs, then apply a charge, this causes the mixture to spray through the air, and creates fibers that stretch to a diameter of 24-millionth of an inch. The scientists catch the flying fibers on a plate to make the drugged fabric. This method allows scientists to precisely control the strength, solubility and shape of these nanofibers; using these variables scientists can create various kinds of nanofibers – one kind of nanofiber was engineered to dissolve within minutes for instant protection, while another was designed to dissolve in days. The drugs that the scientists used aren’t new, it’s the convenient, discrete and effective delivery method which gives nanofibers the edge over current methods like pills and gels.


Nanofibers can physically block sperm. The fibers can also release spermicide and other drugs. Image Credit: Kim Woodrow, UW

Nanofibers can physically block sperm. The fibers can also release spermicide and other drugs.
Image Credit: Kim Woodrow, UW


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