August 15, 2014

Bioengineers are working on a new way for women to protect themselves from HIV, using electrically spun fabric and microbicides.

Close to 84 percent of women diagnosed with HIV are infected via heterosexual sex, NPR reports. Right now, the only contraception that works and is controlled by the woman is a female condom, which can be difficult to use and not too easy to find. Knowing this, Cameron Ball and Kim Woodrow of the University of Washington in Seattle decided to try something new.

Researchers have long been trying to perfect creams using microbicides, or anti-HIV drugs. They can be messy and absorb very slowly, meaning they need to be used at least 20 minutes before intercourse. But a new fabric that is electrically spun could deliver high concentrations of microbicides to vaginal tissue faster, in just 6 minutes.

The fabric is made from a polymer using nanotechnology, and has been approved by the FDA. It’s also flexible and could go into a tampon applicator — but the designers want to hear from their customer base on how they would like to use it. "It's a matter of giving women enough choices and options of what products are available and how they are used," Ball tells NPR. "So you meet the needs of as many women as possible."

The fabric will soon be tested using rabbits and monkeys, and then human testing will start. Ball expects to see the product ready for mass use in 10 years. Catherine Garcia

right to die
2:05 p.m. ET

A 24-year-old woman in Belgium who suffers from depression has been granted the right to end her own life, The Independent reports. The woman — whose name is only given as "Laura" in her extensive interview with a Belgian newspaper — has suffered from depression since she was a child, and was committed to a psychiatric facility at 21.

"Death feels to me not as a choice. If I had a choice, I would choose a bearable life, but I have done everything and that was unsuccessful," Laura told De Morgen.

Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002; assisted suicides have since spiked to over 1,800 a year. In 2013, Belgium agreed that terminally ill children, too, have a right to die.

In the U.S., "Death with Dignity" laws only exist fully in three states — Washington, Oregon, and Vermont — and the laws are strictly limited to cases in which the individual has a terminal illness. Jeva Lange

To pay or not to pay
2:00 p.m. ET

Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. and The Hearst Corporation may have just gotten off the hook for not paying their interns. A lower court previously ruled that the companies had broken the law by not paying interns, but a U.S. appeals court in Manhattan backpedaled on that decision on Thursday, saying that as long as interns gained knowledge in a particular career field in an internship, payment is not necessary. "The purpose of a bona‐fide internship is to integrate classroom learning with practical skill development in a real-world setting," Circuit Judge John Walker wrote.

Though the ruling offers some clarification as to what constitutes appropriate intern work and what does not, the cases will now be sent back to U.S. judges in Manhattan, who will decide if the Fox and Hearst internships were primarily educational. Becca Stanek

Only in America
1:21 p.m. ET
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Another Fourth of July, another hot-dog eating contest. America's beloved — if utterly vomit-worthy — tradition of devouring frankfurters for sport will happen again this Saturday, with eight-year reigning champion Joey Chestnut making a bid for a ninth victory. Last year, Chestnut ate 61 hot dogs in order to be crowned winner, and he holds the record for the most dogs eaten, too: In 2013, he housed a whopping 69.

For those who are morbidly curious, Time has done the dirty work and drawn up a graph of all 1,377 wieners ever eaten by Nathan's Famous hot dog champs since the Coney Island stand started keeping official records in 1972. And ah, how times have changed — Jason Schechter, the 1972 winner, only ate a mere 14 dogs.

See the entire 33-year history over at Time. Jeva Lange

war on drugs
12:24 p.m. ET
Eitan Abramovich/Getty Images

Although the Colombian government agreed to jump on board with the U.S.-backed efforts to curb cocaine production, Colombian cocaine production more than doubled last year, jumping by as much as 53 percent, a United Nations annual survey reports. Cultivation of the coca leaf, which is used to make cocaine, also increased drastically, now taking up about 266 square miles in the country — a chunk of land that The Associated Press estimates to be about 12 times the size of Manhattan. These increases in production are the largest seen in almost a decade.

Colombia is one of the world's three main cocaine-producing countries, along with Bolivia and Peru. The latest findings revealed in the UN report will likely force Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to step up efforts to curb the production of cocaine to keep his promise of participation in the U.S.-led war on drugs. Becca Stanek

12:18 p.m. ET
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Following in the footsteps of big businesses such as Walmart and Amazon, NASCAR and its racetracks took a stand against the Confederate flag on Thursday in light of the allegedly racially motivated June shootings at a historically black church in South Carolina, releasing a statement asking fans to refrain from bringing the flag to races, NBC Sports reports.

"We are asking our fans to join us in a renewed effort to create an all-inclusive, even more welcoming atmosphere for all who attend our events," the statement reads. "This is an opportunity for NASCAR Nation to demonstrate its sense of mutual respect and acceptance."

On Wednesday, NBC Sports reports, the Daytona International Speedway announced that it will offer a "flag exchange" at this weekend's NASCAR races — fans can bring their Confederate flags and swap them for an American flag to wave at the track instead. NASCAR noted that fans who do choose to still bring Confederate flags to events will not be banned from races. Sarah Eberspacher

surveillance state
12:18 p.m. ET
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images

Following last week's autopsy report — which said that Freddie Gray suffered a "high-energy injury" in the back of a police van that likely caused his death — Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Wednesday that all of the city's police vans will soon be outfitted with cameras.

"We're working through a process that will place cameras with recording capabilities in the backs of all our police vans, to ensure that we have a more complete record of what occurs there," Rawlings-Blake said.

In April, Gray was arrested for the possession of a knife and placed in a police van for transport. During the ride, the young black man suffered a severe spinal injury which proved to be fatal. The van transporting Gray had a non-recording camera which could be used to monitor prisoners, but it wasn't functional at the time of his arrest. Stephanie Talmadge

11:15 a.m. ET

The Dalai Lama likely gets many wonderful gifts and honors from influential leaders around the world (not least among them, the Nobel Peace Prize). However, the gift presented to him by George W. Bush might not be making it onto the walls of his home anytime soon.

During a tour of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas, the former president gifted the Dalai Lama with a portrait he painted himself. The canvas bears all the hallmarks of Bush's characteristic painting style, although of course its subject is the Tibetan Buddhist leader and not, well, dogs.

The Dalai Lama was reportedly flattered, though he joked that his "right eye could use some work." Jeva Lange

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