'Sperm and germ'-fighting contraceptive enters trials

Scientists announced today that a new type of contraceptive gel that is also designed to protect against sexually transmitted infections will be the first of its kind to begin clinical efficacy trials at the National Institutes of Healths Contraceptive Clinical Trials Network.

The gel, known by the brand name BufferGel (tm), was jointly developed by researchers at The Johns Hopkins University and the private firm ReProtect LLC. The new trial will test whether women using BufferGel and a diaphragm can reduce the risk of pregnancy as effectively as women using a conventional spermicidal detergent and a diaphragm.

BufferGel is applied vaginally before sex, like conventional spermicides. Unlike these spermicides, which use detergents to kill sperm, BufferGel contains no soaps. Developers avoided including soap or detergent because they can irritate the vaginal lining after frequent use.

BufferGel simply reinforces the mild acidity that occurs in the vagina naturally, says developer Richard Cone, professor of biophysics in Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. The normal acidity levels in the vagina can readily kill sperm and many of the germs that cause sexually transmitted infections, explains Cone, who is also managing director of ReProtect. Thats why your stomachs contents are acidic. Most germs just dont survive long in acidic environments.

Semen eliminates vaginal acidity for several hours to allow sperm to leave the vagina and enter the uterus. Unfortunately, this also can help make it possible for germs to infect the sexual partner. Cone says BufferGel should block this effect, killing both sperm and germs by rapidly acidifying semen.

While reinforcing the vaginas natural acidity seemed like a simple enough approach for developing a contraceptive microbicide, several practical considerations made developing a useful compound challenging, according to Cone.

Not only must the compound kill both spe

Contact: Michael Purdy
Johns Hopkins University

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