Grand Challenges is a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems. Each initiative is an experiment in the use of challenges to focus innovation on making an impact. Individual challenges address some of the same problems, but from differing perspectives.
Robert Gorkin of the University of Wollongong in Australia is developing tough hydrogels as an alternative material to latex for making male condoms with enhanced tactile (touch) sensitivity to improve sexual experience. Tough hydrogels are highly elastic and mechanically tough materials. Unlike latex, they can increase sensitivity to touch, incorporate lubrication, and be coupled to other components, such as stimulants and antiviral drugs. In Phase I, they synthesized candidate tough hydrogel formulations and showed that they had sufficient mechanical and barrier properties to be suitable condom materials, and could be manufactured to international safety standards. A preliminary trial of target users rated tough hydrogels nicer to touch than latex. In Phase II, they will tailor the condoms to the needs of specific communities by surveying target populations to identify desirable properties that will promote use. They will also optimize production and engineer prototypes for a user acceptance and performance trial to evaluate whether they enhance sexual experience.
Charles Chung and team from UbIQ World in the U.S. will engineer the surface of male condoms using nanofabrication technology to mimic human skin, thereby enhancing sensation and encouraging use. Current condom materials such as latex are smooth, in contrast to human skin, which is highly textured. They will measure surface properties of the skin, including roughness and hydrophobicity, and use them to engineer a nanotexturized prototype condom that will be evaluated in a double blind study.
Shengxi Chen of Arizona State University Foundation in the U.S. will produce a male condom using a material to mimic the surface of the skin for a more natural feel, coupled with a chemical to activate erection. The surface of skin cells is both hydrophilic and hydrophobic, however conventional condoms, such as those made from polyisoprene, are hydrophobic and therefore feel unnatural. To mimic the skin surface, they will synthesize the molecule glycosylated PROLI coupled to nitric oxide, which is known to stimulate both male and female physical arousal, and use it to coat a conventional polyisoprene condom. The new condom will be evaluated for strength, biocompatibility with skin cells, and release of nitric oxide.
Debby Herbenick and Frank Sadlo of Indiana University in the U.S. will design a new female condom that is easier and more comfortable to use, and enhances sexual experience. The new condom will have a more natural elliptical opening as opposed to the more conventional Round one, and will be ribbed on one side to provide directed internal stimulation for the female, making it potentially more enjoyable than using no condom. They will also test an alternative method for securing the condom in place using an additional latex coating at the internal, closed end of the condom, which should be more comfortable. Prototypes will be created for evaluation by couples in India, and performance compared to a conventional female condom.
Mahua Choudhury of Texas A&M Health Science Center in the U.S. will develop low-cost male condoms from a strong and highly elastic three-dimensional hydropolymer (hydrogel) embedded with an antioxidant to enhance sexual experience and help prevent HIV transmission. Antioxidants such as quercetin act as stimulants that could enhance feelings of pleasure by promoting smooth muscle relaxation, increasing arterial blood flow, and maintaining nitric oxide levels, which helps to stimulate and maintain erection, and they also have anti-HIV activity. They will develop methods to produce a hydrogel that can protect against STD transmission and unwanted pregnancies, and that can be easily coupled to quercetin. Future work will evaluate the safety and performance of these hydrogel condoms.
Lakshminarayanan Ragupathy of HLL Lifecare Limited in India will make a male condom from the biodegradable polymer poly(glycerol sebacate) as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional condoms with improved performance. In contrast to currently used condoms, poly(glycerol sebacate) may be compatible with oil-based lubricants, and can be more easily combined with other materials, such as anti-viral drugs, contraceptives and vasodilators, to enhance safety and user experience. Poly(glycerol sebacate) is also completely biodegradable, transparent, odorless, and the raw materials are renewable. They will modify some of the mechanical properties of poly(glycerol sebacate), such as tensile strength, to make it more suitable as condom material and to reduce thickness, thereby increasing sensitivity during use. Once the ideal material has been identified, they will produce the condom and evaluate it for safety and biocompatibility.
James Zhijun Lu of Regenex Pharmaceuticals, Ltd. in China will reduce the thickness of natural latex condoms to enhance sensitivity during use. Current condom thickness is dictated by the relative strength of the material, which must be maintained to prevent disease transmission and unwanted pregnancies. However, thicker condoms inhibit sensation during use. Natural latex is weakened below a thickness of 40?m, mainly due to the formation of different sized aggregates in emulsion. To enable the production of thinner condoms, they will analyze whether optimizing the ratio of these aggregates can increase the strength of natural latex, and develop a new centrifugation process to remove aggregates during condom manufacture. They will also identify conditions, such as temperature, that may inhibit aggregate formation to further reduce thickness while retaining strength.
Steve Strauss and colleagues at Ultimate Medical Products LLC in the U.S. will refine their condom applicator to promote the use of male condoms by enabling them to be put on more easily and rapidly. Most condoms are applied manually, which can be cumbersome and cause loss of arousal. The applicator they have designed is a simple, inexpensive, and disposable device that can be incorporated into regular condom packaging. It is quick and easy to use, can be applied with one hand, and ensures the condom is correctly fitted to prevent STD transmission and unwanted pregnancy. The applicator design will be optimized, and 36 couples will be recruited to home-test it and evaluate performance compared to conventional condoms.
Mache Seibel and team from HealthRock, LLC in the U.S. have invented a female condom that is inflated and positioned using air pressure and provides additional stimulation, which they will test in the laboratory and in clinical trials. The only available female condom has not been widely accepted partly because it is difficult to position, conspicuous, reduces sensation, and can make sounds during use. The new condom is made from polyurethane to minimize sound emission, and the inflation mechanism ensures quicker insertion. The shape is also designed to enhance sensation for both the male and female during intercourse.
Daniel Resnic and colleagues of Origami Healthcare Products, Inc. in the U.S. will refine their internal condom, which is made of soft, pliant silicone and designed to improve pleasure and safety for both vaginal and anal intercourse, and test it in a small, randomized crossover controlled trial. Classical condoms made of latex or polyurethane are designed primarily for functionality and have not been approved for anal intercourse, which is a major mode of HIV transmission. Silicone is an attractive alternative material for a contraceptive as it is non-allergenic, strong, highly stretchable, lacks taste and odor, and has antimicrobial properties. The internal condom will be easy to use and is designed to mimic human tissue to make it more pleasurable to use.