Australian Engineers Develop the ‘Holy Grail’ of Condom Technology
The contraceptive you’ve been waiting for.
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Researchers at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) announced today that their new latex technology, which incorporates molecular fibers extracted from native Australian grass, could be used to produce ultra-strong condoms that are 30 percent thinner than standard alternatives. The university’s president said the technology has “great potential to make a difference in the fight against HIV and AIDS.”
That’s no hyperbole. The thing about condoms is that people don’t like using them. Only 5 percent of men worldwide wear them. No less than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has devoted millions in grants to developing condom solutions that enhance pleasure rather than decrease it. The stigmatization of condoms is one of the greatest barriers to sexual health around the world.
AIBN scientists argue that their latex—developed in partnership with the local Indjalandji-Dhidhanu people, who have creatively used resin from native spinifex grass for generations—opens the door for manufacturers to start marketing thin and satisfying prophylactic products that customers will actually use, rather than focusing on strength. In early “burst tests” (in which condoms are inflated until they burst), AIBN’s condoms withstood 20 percent more pressure than the control sample. They are 25 percent thinner than Trojans.
The team is now looking to license the technology, which it calls the “Holy Grail for natural rubber,” to the multibillion-dollar latex industry, where they see potential beyond the bed, especially in the field of surgery—nanocellulose latex gloves offer surgeons more sensitivity and less hand fatigue. The university signed an agreement with the Dugalunji Aboriginal Corporation to ensure that the local Aboriginal people, whose knowledge about spinifex formed the basis of AIBN’s work, retain equity in the technology’s commercialization.