Better Condoms Through Nanotechnology

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has proven of late to be a spur to developing nanotechnology-based solutions to some of the world’s problems, like a system for sterilizing medical equipment even in places where there is no electricity.

The foundation's latest Grand Challenge Exploration grants are aimed at improving the humble condom. The Gates Foundation granted $100 000 to the University of Manchester to develop a condom in November of last year, reportedly using graphene, that would lead to thinner yet stronger condoms.

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With the University of Manchester becoming a “hub” for graphene research, it makes sense that any efforts to use graphene for the improvement of condoms would take place there. But the Gates Foundation apparently didn’t want to limit the prospects of improving prophylactics to just graphene. Last week, it was announced that the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center (BMC) have been awarded a $100 000 Grand Challenge grant to develop a better condom using nanotechnology.

"We are honored to be a recipient of a GCE grant project in order to examine this important public health issue," says Karen Buch MD, a third year radiology resident at BMC and Ducksoo Kim MD, professor of radiology at BUSM in a Boston Magazine article. "We look forward to using nanotechnology to create a condom that is both effective and does not diminish sensation, which could help convince more people to use condoms and potentially reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted infections."

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The nanotechnology that the Boston doctors intend to use for their improved condoms will be superhydrophillic nanoparticles that coat the condom and trap water to make them more resilient and easier to use.

"We believe that by altering the mechanical forces experienced by the condom, we may ultimately be able to make a thinner condom which reduces friction, thereby reducing discomfort associated with friction increases pleasure, thereby increasing condom use and decreases rates of unwanted pregnancy and infection transmission," Kim says in a press release.

So it appears the race is now on. Will hydrophilic nanoparticles or graphene be the nanomaterial of the future for condoms? Maybe both.

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