Health, fitness and Food

Tampons Could Be New HIV Prevention Tool

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Could tampons be the key to HIV prevention for women? That’s the question that bioengineers at Washington University are attempting to answer with their latest research. If the team can get their work through clinical trials, they hope to be able to provide women with a dissolvable tampon that will deliver HIV-preventing medicine minutes before having sex.

“We envision a product that could dissolve, pretty much instantaneously, into a gel and then spread around the vagina during sex,” said Cameron Ball, lead author of the study which was published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. “We want something that dissolves quickly so that people can say, ‘Hey, I wasn’t planning on it, but I’m going to have sex in five minutes so I need to use this product, and I want it to be completely dissolved before that,’” he added.

The researchers combined silky, electrically spun fibers with maraviroc — an approved drug that helps treat people with HIV that may also prevent healthy people from getting the virus. Within minutes of coming into contact with moisture, the fibers dissolve, releasing a high dose of the medication.

Research that explores the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has been happening for years. PrEP refers to medications that are given to individuals who are considered high-risk for contracting HIV, including people in relationships with HIV-positive partners, people who inject drugs and individuals who regularly have unprotected sex with partners whose  HIV status they don’t know. These drugs are typically administered via a daily pill.

Creams and gels have also been explored, but researchers say that usually presents a logistical problem for women. “Follow-up trials have shown that the real barrier for women in using them is that they don’t adhere to the products — there’s leakage that makes it messy for them to use, so we’re interested in creating a different form of the drug,” Ball said. “Basically, a different product that women might be more likely to use.”

The new fibers can also potentially be used to prevent other sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, or used as a form of contraception.

However, we are not likely to see any of these products for some time. Ball predicts that it will be at least another ten years “before these types of things might be seen on the shelf of a local Walgreens or CVS.”


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