Boston University Could Make the ‘Next Generation Condom’
Researchers in Boston are being asked to find new ways to make wearing a condom more appealing, and at the same time, more reliable.
Through a $100,000 grant funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, members of the department of radiology at Boston University’s School of Medicine and doctors from Boston Medical Center will turn to nanotechnology to develop a next-generation condom that’s less likely to break while also making it more pleasurable to wear, getting rid of the stigma that using a male contraceptive doesn’t feel good during sex.
The funding from the Gates Foundation is part of the Grand Challenges Explorations competition, which started in March. The aim of the grant money and competition is to “break the mold in solving persistent global health challenges.” This project is one of more than 80 funded through this particular round of research initiatives suggested by the program.
Karen Buch, M.D., a third-year radiology resident at BMC, and Ducksoo Kim, M.D., professor of radiology at BUSM and director of the vascular and interventional radiology fellowship at BMC, will lead the research and execution of creating the next best condom.
“We are honored to be a recipient of a GCE grant project in order to examine this important public health issue,” said Buch and Kim in a statement. “We look forward to using nanotechnology to create a condom that is both effective and does not diminish sensation, which could help convince more people to use condoms and potentially reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted infections.”
According to the Gates Foundation, in the time that condoms have been in use, not much has changed:
“They have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years. The primary improvement has been the use of latex as the primary material and quality-control measures, which allow for quality testing of each individual condom. Material science and our understanding of neurobiology has undergone revolutionary transformation in the last decade, yet that knowledge has not been applied to improve the product attributes of one of the most ubiquitous and potentially underutilized products on earth. New concept designs with new materials can be prototyped and tested quickly. Large-scale human clinical trials are not required. Manufacturing capacity, marketing, and distribution channels are already in place.”
Buch and Kim hope to go beyond what’s already out there in terms of thickness and lubricants, making the condoms more comfortable and stronger while simultaneously keeping them thin.
In an e-mail, Kim said their design will incorporate a super-hydrophilic nano-particle coating that will help decrease the risk of sexually transmitted diseases by maintaining host defenses, and increase pleasure. “The coating retains water on the condom surface to reduce friction, tearing forces and condom breakage . To date there are no real successful hydrophilic condom coatings on the market with adequate consumer satisfaction. We believe that by altering the mechanical forces experienced by the condom we may ultimately be able to make a thinner condom which reduces friction thereby reducing discomfort associated with friction, increase pleasure thereby increasing condom use, and decreasing rates of unwanted pregnancy and infection transmission,” Kim said.
Buch and Kim can apply for a follow-up grant worth $1 million, in order to further the project.