Condom technology is now focus of research
Good news: Ever-use of the male condom has increased from 52% in 1982 to 93% in 2006-2010.1 When used properly, condoms provide excellent protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies.2 According to Contraceptive Technology, with perfect use of the male condom, just 2% of women experience an unintended pregnancy in the first year of use.3 (See story on p. 19 for what constitutes correct condom use.)
Even with gains in usage, many condoms might not be worn correctly or consistently. To provide effective protection, condoms need to be used correctly; however, fit-and-feel issues can result in erection difficulty, loss of sensation, removal of condoms before the intercourse episode ends, and other problems that can interfere with their correct use.4
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has just released funding to support 11 projects that aim to improve uptake and regular use of male and female condoms by developing new designs that significantly preserve or enhance pleasure and simplify use. The foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations grants fund innovative ideas to tackle persistent global health and development problems. Winning proposals in the November 2013 funding round tackle a wide range of issues including using social data for social good, helping women farmers in the developing world, new interventions for neglected diseases, and bringing together human and animal health for new solutions. Winners spanning 14 countries were selected from more than 2,700 proposals. Each of the 81 projects receives $100,000 in funding to further their work. Projects demonstrating potential could receive additional funding up to $1 million.
"Grand Challenges Explorations is designed to foster the most innovative ideas to save the lives of the world's poorest people," said Chris Wilson, MD, director of the Gates Foundation's Discovery & Translational Sciences team in an announcement of the funded projects. "Although these five areas are very different, solving each one of these problems in new ways could make a huge impact."
Global views sought
Eleven projects were selected for the condom challenge. Overseas candidates include the following:
- A team from Cambridge (UK) Design Partnership plan to design a male condom out of a composite material that will provide a universal fit and is designed to gently tighten during intercourse, which will enhance sensation and reliability.
- Scientists at Kimbranox Ltd. in Stellenbosch, South Africa will test a condom applicator, the Rapidom, which is designed for easy, technique-free application of male condoms.
- Researchers at the University of Manchester (UK) are developing new elastic composite materials for condoms containing nanomaterials such as grapheme. They are tailoring the composite material to enhance the natural sensation during intercourse.
- A design team at House of Petite Pty. Ltd. in Sydney, Australia, will build and test a universal condom applicator pack designed to ensure that male condoms can be quickly, accurately, safely, and easily fitted.
- Scientists at HLL Lifecare Ltd. in Trivandrum, India, look to improve the safety and enhance the sensitivity of male condoms by incorporating graphene or its derivatives into condom-making materials.
US scientists weigh in
Grants also were awarded to the following U.S. research teams:
- Scientists at Apex Medical Technologies in San Diego will produce a male condom with enhanced strength and sensitivity using collagen fibrils from bovine tendons, which are widely available from meat processing.
- Researchers at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville will develop a prototype male condom made from superelastomers, which will enable the manufacture of thinner and softer condoms that will enhance user experience.
- Investigators at the University of Oregon in Eugene will design a high-strength, ultra-thin, shape memory material for male condoms to improve tactility and enhance sensitivity.
- Scientists at Boston University Medical Center will design and fabricate a durable male condom with a super-hydrophilic nanoparticle coating to better protect against breakage and thereby transmission of infectious disease.
- Researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, propose to synthesize new polymeric materials that mimic the properties of mucosal tissue for use in condom manufacturing.
- Investigators at California Family Health Council (CFHC) in Los Angeles will develop a stronger and thinner male condom made of polyethylene to increase condom use.
Preliminary tests with the CFHC condom suggest it is less likely to slip off and is more comfortable, says Ron Frezieres, CFHC's vice president of research and evaluation.
In designing the next generation of condom, scientists worked carefully to improve multiple aspects of typical condom use, says Frezieres. Using a new non-latex material, polyethylene, that is more stable in harsh environments, transparent, and ultra sheer with superior strength, might improve acceptability he notes. Donning will be quicker and easier with the very unique detachable pull-tabs or flanges.
"The condom will be uniquely packaged in a sturdy credit card sized, customizable three-pack that can be safely stored in a wallet," explains Frezieres. "The condom will cling rather than squeeze the penis, which enhances sensation and promises to be less restrictive than standard latex condoms."
- Daniels K, Mosher WD, Jones J, Contraceptive methods women have ever used: United States, 19822010. National Health Statistics Reports 2013; accessed at http://1.usa.gov/1aSMgZX.
- Cecil M, Nelson AL, Trussell J, et al. If the condom doesn't fit, you must resize it. Contraception 2010; 82(6):489-490.
- Trussell J, Guthrie KA. Choosing a contraceptive: efficacy, safety and personal considerations. In: Hatcher RA, Trussell J, Nelson AL, et al. Contraceptive Technology: 20th revised edition. New York: Ardent Media; 2011.
- Emetu R, Marshall A, Yarber W, et al. Testing the Kinsey Institute Homework Intervention Strategy (KIHIS) among men who have sex with men. Presented at the 141st meeting of the American Public Health Association. Boston; November 2013.