In a preliminary study published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, the researchers combined silky, electrically spun fibers with maraviroc — a drug currently approved to help treat HIV infections that may also prevent healthy people from acquiring the virus.
Within minutes of coming into contact with moisture, the fibers dissolve, releasing a high dose of the medication.
The hope is that women will be able to discretely insert a tampon-like device containing the fibers into their vaginas — either with their fingers or an applicator — minutes before sex.
“We envision a product that could dissolve, pretty much instantaneously, into a gel and then spread around the vagina during sex,” Cameron Ball, lead author on the paper and a doctoral student in bioengineering with the University of Washington, told The Huffington Post.
“We want something that dissolves quickly so that people can say, ‘Hey, I wasn’t planning on it, but I’m going to have sex in five minutes so I need to use this product, and I want it to be completely dissolved before that,’” he added. (The new “tampons” are not intended to be used for feminine hygiene purposes.)
The new fibers could also potentially be used for the prevention of other sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, Ball said, or as a form of contraception.