laboratory scientistResearchers from the University of Washington have developed an electronically spun fabric with fibers that measure in nanometers. The fabric is created from a liquid that is electronically charged using electrospinning. According to a research study published in PLoS One, the fibers can be modified to release medications immediately or over the course of a few days – ideal for women seeking pregnancy and HIV protection other than the condom.

The electrospinning process started with a dissolved polymer. Researchers added antiretroviral medications to the polymer before electro-charging the liquid. When the fluid is squeezed into an electric field it spreads and stretches creating thin fibers. The fibers stick to a collecting plate to form the final fiber mesh. The mesh is so tightly woven that sperm cannot pass through the material and, based on how the fibers are tuned, antiretroviral medications are released over hours or days.

The fiber mesh can be modified to release drugs other than antiretrovirals to protect against other sexually transmitted diseases or infections. The material is also moldable, so drug companies could create a cloth that is inserted directly into the vagina or use the material as a cover for vaginal rings. Fibers can be tuned to release drugs at different rates to allow for immediate and sustained protection.

Though the system could provide protection to women in all cultures and from all backgrounds, there are still some questions about delivery and practicality. Due to the success of the original experiments, the Gates Foundation honored the project with a grant for further research. Researchers will use a larger electrospinning machine to create larger sheets of nanofabric making it easier to test drug delivery and efficacy on a larger scale. There are no plans to introduce the material to the market any time soon, but this research could be the start of a new delivery system for drugs of all kinds, but researchers claim the focus is on populations like those in Africa where HIV infection rates are higher.

Source: Cameron Ball, Emily Krogstad, Thanyanan Chaowanachan, Kim A. Woodrow. Drug-Eluting Fibers for HIV-1 Inhibition and Contraception. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49792. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049792.