Canadian researchers at the University of Manitoba have found a solution to the humble condom's fatal flaw "nanoparticles" which is resistant to HIV/Aids infection.
According to the medical researchers, condoms treated with silver nanoparticles could 'completely inactivate' HIV, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's)
"Condoms have a 15 percent failure rate, so a University of Manitoba team tried soaking condoms in a solution packed with "remarkable," microscopic silver nanoparticles, and the treated devices appeared to kill all HIV and herpes in lab experiments," reads the scientists report.
"Till now, there has been no single condom with additional protection against sexually transmitted infections available on the market," noted the group's paper just published in the International Journal of Nanotechnology. But when their novel nanoparticle condoms contacted HIV, "the infectiousness of the virus could be completely inactivated."
It has long been known that silver has disinfectant powers, prompting people in the early 1900s to put it in milk to stave off spoilage, and in eye drops to try to prevent infection. Its effectiveness, though, was less than reliable.
The new technology has changed that. Nanoparticles are tiny clusters of atoms created by scientists, so small that it would take thousands of them to equal the dimensions of a human red-blood cell.
The unique qualities that nano-sizing gives to substances are the subject of intense study in a number of fields, and many of the particles are already used in consumer products ranging from scratch-resistant eyeglasses to better-gripping car tires.
"When silver is turned into nano-sized bits, it seems to become more effective at combating bacteria and viruses," said Dr. Xiaojian Yao, lead author of the study.
"At such nanoscale, the extremely small size of silver particles exhibits remarkable, unusual physio-chemical properties and biolgical activity," he said.
Yao warned that at the end of the day, if the condoms treated with silver nanoparticles stay in the pocket, it's not going to do the job.
Their tiny dimensions also mean they can be plastered on something like a polyurethane condom without changing its size or shape.
"The silver nanoparticles do not cause inflammation, and the nano-treated condoms have the added advantage of being quickly discarded, meaning the potentially toxic metal does not linger in users' bodies, the study notes," explained Dr. Yao.
According to medics, the research is still in its early stages, however, with animal studies on the nanoparticle contraceptives the next step, and possible entry on the market relatively far off.
Dr. Julio Montaner, one of Canada's leading HIV scientists, said the idea is "intriguing" and welcome in the field.
"Though, the most significant problem with condoms is not the 15 percent that fail to prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections, but the fact many people simply neglect to use them."
"Unfortunately, at the most critical moment when these decisions are so important, people's judgment may be impaired," said Montaner.