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Saturday, 17 June, 2000, 00:52 GMT 01:52 UK
'Invisible condoms' go on trial
Condoms
An alternative to traditional condoms could become available
An "invisible condom" for women that protects against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is being developed by researchers.

A gel in liquid form acts as a barrier to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and can be used as a contraceptive if combined with a spermicide.

The microbiocide gel, which is introduced into the vagina, is transparent, odourless and colourless and cannot be felt by either the woman or her partner.

It actively kills the pathogens in HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, said the researchers at Laval University, Quebec.

They have been developing the gel for nine years and tests on mice have shown it to be effective for at least two hours at room temperature.

Dr Michel Bergeron, professor and chairman of the Infectious Disease Research Centre in Quebec City, said the mice experiments showed the gel to be between 90% and 100% effective in trapping and killing the virus that causes genital herpes and 99.9% effective in killing HIV.

There was no evidence of toxicity, reports the British Medical Journal website.

The researchers have been given more than 150,000 in federal funds to trial the "invisible condom".

Room temperature

Dr Michel Alary, an Aids specialist in the department of medicine at Laval University and the Saint-Sacrement Hospital Research Centre, said that the extremely high temperatures in sub-Saharan African countries could prevent the gel working there if it requires room temperature to be effective.

Refrigerators are not readily available for most women in the area, which has one of the highest rates of Aids in the world.

Dr Bergeron said that a solution to this problem is being worked on.

If first clinical trials prove the gel to be safe, larger scale trials will begin next year with prostitutes, who have a high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.

Margaret Hodge, chief executive of Brook sexual health advisory centres in the UK, said the idea sounded "innovative".

"If it is a liquid gel it might overcome quite a number of lubrication problems - people use the wrong oils with current condoms.

"It sounds like the old spermicidal foams which were better than nothing but they weren't 100% effective in providing a sufficient barrier. I would want to know more about its barrier properties."

There were also questions of whether people would use the gel.

"The female condom is actually extremely good as a contraceptive and for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. But it looks so horrible not too many people have taken it up."

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See also:

28 Jan 00 | Health
Straight sex HIV cases rise
13 Feb 00 | Health
Young take risks with sex
18 Jan 00 | Health
Boys red-faced over condoms
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