Researchers are working on replacing latex with a material called “tough hydrogel.”
A team of researchers at the University of Wollongong (UOW) in Australia was granted funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help develop a “Next Generation Condom” that can significantly enhance pleasure to promote its regular use.
The project aims to replace latex with a new material called a “tough hydrogel,” which is a skin-like material that can be designed to be completely transparent and to act and feel like real skin. This means the material can be used instead of latex to create condoms that feel more like human skin and provide more pleasure than most existing condoms.
Hydrogels are made of water connected together by polymers, which means they are naturally wet and have a stiffness similar to that of body tissues. Hydrogels are also self-lubricated and biocompatible, which makes them safe. In fact, contact lenses are made of a type of hydrogel and different forms of hydrogel are also being used in some consumer products like shower gels and toothpaste. They can be created to be biodegradable, allowing for easy and eco-friendly disposal of the item after use.
Another research team at UOW has been working on tough and stimuli-sensitive hydrogels with unique properties that enable them to “recover from large strains and absorb energy without damage.” These tough hydrogel sheets can be made to stretch over a thousand times their size, and it is this type of tough hydrogel that is being used to develop the hydrogel condom.
The project team is led by biomedical engineer Dr. Robert Gorkin and includes polymer scientist Dr. Sina Naficy and molecular microbiologist Dr. Jason McArthur. The research team includes experts in the fields of engineering research, materials science, and biology to make sure that the material meets necessary validations like strength and elasticity of the material and its ability to prevent STDs and protect against pregnancy.
The new hydrogel condom is meant to help people in countries “where significant social, economic and environmental problems stem from lack of birth control and the spread of STDs.” The research team is also looking into working with groups in the areas of Southeast Asia and Sub-Sahara Africa to design prototypes and products that are in line with the social and cultural environment of these areas.
The hydrogel condom project was only one of 52 grants that were funded all over the globe as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative.
Take a look at the video below for a more about the research.
Source: The Verge