Condoms have come a long way since the days when people used linen, oiled silk and animal intestines – but why haven’t we seen any real innovation since Durex added lubricant in 1957?
Sure, you can now get condoms in different flavours, synthetic latex that doesn’t cause allergies, and designs that are ribbed for ‘her’ pleasure. But none of this is revolutionary. And we need a revolution. Forty-four per cent of pregnancies around the world are unplanned and one million new STIs are contracted every day.
This is why, in 2013, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation put out a call for “a next-generation condom” as part of the Foundation’s Global Grand Challenges initiative to eradicate HIV. The goal was a new model that “significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, to improve uptake and regular use.”
The most promising designs would score $100,000 in seed funding (pardon the pun), plus a chance at an additional $1 million to finance their projects. Hundreds of entries poured in and 22 promising proposals, including our own, received funding.
New concepts ranged from skin-like materials to graphene-laced latex that increases strength. The winning concept, the one that received the million-dollar funding, aims to improve fit by clinging to your penis like cling-wrap.
With Project Geldom, our solution is to replace latex with ‘tough hydrogels’. These tissue-like materials act like rubber, they’re self-lubricating, they have no odour or taste, and don’t cause allergic reactions. Hydrogels also allow pharmaceutical molecules (i.e. anti-STIs, stimulation agents, flavours etc) to be loaded into and released directly from the condom itself.
Getting a condom through FDA trials and eventually to market can cost millions of dollars with no guarantee that they will eventually be accepted, so there’s a reluctance for companies to innovate. But with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Wollongong and Swinburne University of Technology, we’re ready to start planning user trials.
We hope to get our product to market within the next two years. And a little way down the track, we hope to make condoms that feel like different types of skin and can be loaded with Viagra-like compounds!
Written by Dr Simon Cook, Research Fellow at Swinburne University of Technology working on Project Geldom. This article was originally published by The Feed. Read the original article.