Speed Reads


A new anti-HIV 'tampon' could save the lives of women

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.