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July 2004 Issue

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Study Evaluates Anti-STD Contraceptives

Published July 2004

A UC Medical Center scientist has received a seven-year, $3.25 million contract to study new contraceptives.

The first project will evaluate the efficacy of two nonhormonal contraceptive gels that will also protect women against the high risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

The United States has the highest STD rates in the industrialized world. Of 40 million American women using contraception, more than three-quarters use a method that puts them at risk.

Besides providing an alternative to couples who for medical reasons cannot use hormone-based contraceptives, the two new gels also have the advantage of being less irritating than current detergent-based products.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will evaluate 1 percent C31G vaginal gel, a synthetic organic compound manufactured by Biosyn Inc., and BufferGel, developed jointly by Johns Hopkins University and the private company ReProtect LLC.

"Our goal," says principal investigator Michael Thomas, MD, "is to find contraceptives that also protect against STDs like chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea and HIV, but with fewer side effects than current products."

Dr. Thomas, a specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility in the Medical Center's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, says the C31G vaginal gel, originally developed as a mouthwash, has a direct spermicidal and germicidal effect.

The NIH has given the C31G study its "Fast Track" designation, on the grounds that HIV infection is a serious and life-threatening condition, there is an unmet need for a female-controlled method to reduce sexual transmission of HIV, and C31G has the potential to meet that need.

BufferGel works by enhancing acidity, or pH, in the vagina. Because semen naturally reduces vaginal acidity, allowing sperm to leave and enter the uterus, for several hours the vagina becomes especially prone to infection. Using BufferGel to reinforce acidity during this vulnerable period is believed to kill both sperm and disease-causing microbes, and do so without damaging "friendly" bacteria.

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