Penn State Researchers Working to Prevent the Spread of HIV
Something extraordinary is being created by the Penn State Food Science Department, and we’re not talking Creamery Ice Cream.
Penn State researchers have developed a potential solution to prevent the transmission of HIV and AIDS. The solution: a vaginal suppository that can be inserted prior to intercourse.
Led by lead researcher Toral Zaveri, a postdoctoral scholar of the Food Science Department, the suppository is primarily made of carrageenan, a seaweed-based food additive. Being a plant-based food additive, carageenan is vegetarian friendly, risk-free from animal-based infections, and effectively dodges any religious objections that may arise from animal-based products.
Additionally, Carrageenan was chosen over gelatin used in similar suppositories because of its superior stability in higher temperatures, which plays a huge role when considering mass production to countries of warmer climates.
Traditionally, the spread of sexually transmitted infections is prevented through the proper use of condoms, though Zaveri explains that in countries and regions where HIV and AIDS are more prevalent such as certain countries in Africa, proper condom usage is not always guaranteed.
“Due to socioeconomic and gender inequities, women in some countries and cultures are not always in a position to negotiate regular condom use, so a drug-dispersing suppository can protect against transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections during heterosexual intercourse with a partner whose infection status may or may not be known to the woman.”
This suppository would therefore give women the opportunity to engage in sexual intercourse while reducing their likelihood of contracting the HIV virus, thereby becoming a sort of an HIV version of the birth control pill.
The suppository itself was developed through the Sensory Evaluation Center in Penn State’s Department of Food Science. Female participants indicated their willingness to try different suppositories and their imagination of ease of insertion upon being presented with suppositories of varying sizes, textures, and shapes.
The drug within the suppository, Tenofovir, was tested in a simulated vaginal environment to ensure that the drug would be released from the suppository upon insertion. The suppository effectively releases the drug even in the presence of semen.
The suppository is being researched for mass production and packaging. According to Zaveri, carrageenan has already been approved, and the testing for safety has already been completed via previous clinical trials, making the product marketable for relatively quick commercialization.