Providing women with improved microbicides is a pressing challenge because women now account for a growing number of new infections worldwide, the researchers said.
By applying fundamentals of physics and chemistry, the researchers developed a computer model that can predict the effectiveness of various microbicidal recipes in destroying human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) before it reaches vulnerable body tissues.
Using the tool, the researchers have determined that a thin, long-lasting coating of microbicide delivered to susceptible tissues in a woman's vagina can significantly reduce the spread of HIV.
The researchers reported their findings in the September 2006 Biophysical Journal.
The findings emphasize a critical role for the "delivery vehicle," the various polymer gels or creams that carry the active antimicrobial ingredients, in determining the success or failure of microbicides, according to the researchers. Yet, they add, most scientists have concentrated on improving the antimicrobial compounds themselves, rather than their delivery.
"There is a huge push to produce microbicides that would have any effectiveness at all in reducing the spread of HIV, particularly in places like Africa and Southeast Asia where the disease is rampant," said David Katz, a professor of biomedical engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering and one of the computer tool's developers. "We are developing methodologies to make the next round of microbicides even better."
"Existing microbicides are excellent in terms of their ability to inactivate HIV," added Anthony Geonnotti, the study's lead investigator, who is a Ph.D. candidate in Katz's laboratory. "Improvements to future generations of microbicides