University of Manitoba medical microbiologist Dr Xiaojian Yao, who specializes in researching the HIV virus, has discovered a potential new way to protect ourselves against HIV and the Herpes virus: silver nanoparticles.
He and his team coated condoms in microscopic particles of silver — which has long been known to have disinfectant properties — and they found that when they brought the silver-coated condoms into contact with HIV and Herpes, both viruses were completely inactivated. Additionally, they discovered that both the T-cell and macrophage strains of HIV, as well as drug-resistant strains, were highly susceptible to the silver nanoparticles, and they also acted to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi.
Nanoparticle research is being pursued in a number of fields, due to their potential as a bridge between larger, bulk substances and the structures of atoms and molecules.
"At such nanoscale, the extremely small size of silver particles exhibits remarkable, unusual physio-chemical properties and biological activity," said Yao, according to the National Post.
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It's still unclear exactly how the silver nanoparticles are deactivating the viruses, but the research is still in its beginning stages. According to Yao, the nanoparticles themselves, or silver ions released by them, could be bonding to the viruses or altering 'key proteins' on the surface of the virus, preventing them from attaching to their host.
Current efforts to make condoms more effective in preventing STDs has included the use of Nonoxynol-9, which recent studies have shown can actually make infection more likely, due to causing genital inflammation and ulceration. Silver nanoparticles, on the other hand, do not cause inflammation and are, in fact, anti-inflammatory, according to the study. Although some silver ions are toxic, the silver nanoparticles themselves are relatively non-toxic, and since the condoms would be discarded quickly after use, exposure would be limited.
Furthermore, since the mere presence of the nanoparticles inhibits the viruses, bacteria and fungi, and the particles do no wash off, anyone who may handle the condom after use would also likely be protected from any potential infection.
Dr Julio Montaner, the director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS called the research "promising", according to the National Post, but the major issue with condoms is still whether or not they are used.
"Unfortunately, at the most critical moment when these decisions are so important, people's judgment may be impaired," said Dr. Montaner. "At the end of the day, if they stay in the pocket, it's not going to do the job."