For the past few decades, birth control choices have remained surprisingly stagnant. That could change soon, with new technology in the form of dissolvable fibers that protect against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
A bioengineering lab at the University of Washington has developed electrically spun, super-thin cloth that can dissolve and release drugs. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the researchers are hopeful that the product will be cheap and plentiful enough to put a dent in the transmission of AIDS and unplanned pregnancies.
"Our long-term goal is to create a technology that can deliver contraceptives and prevent HIV at the same time," University of Washington assistant professor Kim Woodrow told the Los Angeles Times. "We want to develop products that women can control, use discreetly without having to negotiate with their partners."
What will this birth control of the future look like?
The fibers, which can be spun so thin you can't see them with the naked eye, can form a physical barrier or a film that dissolve when exposed to moisture, according to the study published in PLoS One. They could be inserted directly into the body or used as a coating on other products.
"At the time of sex, are people going to actually use it? That's where having multiple options really comes into play," project co-author Emily Krogstad told South Florida Gay News. "Depending on cultural background and personal preferences, certain populations may differ in terms of what form of technology makes the most sense for them."
The researchers have tested different polymers, such as the FDA-approved glycerol monolaurate, which can inhibit certain STDs.