A new medical device could help protect women from HIV infection during sex. Scientists with the University of Waterloo have developed a new technology, creating a vaginal implant to reduce the risk of contracting the virus during sex. It could more effective than HIV drugs or condoms to fend off infections!
But how does it work? This implant aims to simulate a natural reaction of the organism. When the HIV infiltrates a person, it corrupts the T cells. If the T cells are dormant, they will not be infected with the virus. This reaction is known as immune quiescence.
It’s a Natural Immune Reaction
The scientists from the University of Waterloo started researching HIV infection by trying to understand why Kenyan sex workers hadn’t contacted the virus, although they had relations with clients that were HIV positive. The answer Emmanuel Ho and his research partner at the School of Pharmacy at Waterloo received was that the women had a natural immune quiescence:
“Observing this, we asked ourselves if it was possible to pharmacologically induce immune quiescence with medication that was better assured of reaching the point of infection. By delivering the medication exactly where it’s needed, we hoped to increase the chances of inducing immune quiescence.”
So, Ho and his team have developed a vaginal implant that has a hollow tube and two pliable arms. The arms hold the implant, and in the tube there is hydroxychloroquine (– also used to treat malaria), that calms immune activation and it’s absorbed slowly by vaginal tract walls.
Testing and Future Research
The implant was tested in animals, showing a great reduction of T cell activation. Now that the team has positive results, they’re working on improving their device, while also debating where it would fit among other prevention methods against HIV infection.
Emmanuel Ho stated that “some drugs taken orally never make it to the vaginal tract, so this implant could provide a more reliable way to encourage T cells not to respond to infection and therefore more reliable and cheaply prevent transmission. What we don’t know yet is if this can be a stand-alone option for preventing HIV transmission or if it might be best used in conjunction with other prevention strategies. We aim to answer these questions with future research.”
Their research was recently made public in the Journal of Controlled Release.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.