UO team wins $100K to build a better condom

EUGENE, Ore. - A team from the University of Oregon got $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build a better condom.

The Gates Foundation's goal: combat HIV-AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases around the goal.

Professor Richard Chartoff's team's proposal: a one-size fits all condom that is stronger and thinner than what's readily available around the world now.

"They had certain requirements about a challenge to design a better condom material so that it would be more acceptable for people to use," Chartoff said. "We decided that we could design a better material that was more elastic and stronger and we can make it thinner."

Condoms are critical in the battle against sexually transmitted diseases, said Paul Homan with the Eugene HIV Alliance.

"They are the most effective way to prevent HIV, other than abstinence," Homan said. "100 percent is abstinence. Condoms are 97 percent effective protecting against HIV."

Homan said people are going to have sex, so making condoms more acceptable is key.

That's where Chartoff's team - two post-doctoral students, a graduate student and one undergraduate - come in.

"Our concept is one size fits all, and it's thinner and stronger than materials that are available now," the professor said. "We want to design material that'll work better so people will be more willing to use it because it doesn't detract from their experience."

They started with the confusion some people face when acquiring condoms.

"The way condoms come now is small, medium or large, and you don't know what that means because they don't give you any indication," he said. "A lot of times you'll buy a product that doesn't fit right."

The team plans to make a condom that essentially shrinks to fit using body heat.

"The temperature of your body makes the material respond so that it fits snuggly and it's very thin so it's just like an extra layer of skin," Chartoff said.

The $100,000 funds an 18-month development period. Chartoff expects results within a year.