Hydrogels as Biological Barriers

For tough hydrogels to be used in the manufacture of condoms, these materials must be proven safe. This means the material should act as an effective barrier for sperm cells to prevent contraception, and as a block to bacteria and viruses to prevent against sexually transmitted infections. In hydrogels, the polymer network provides a barrier function by forming a molecular mesh. Previous work has shown that this barrier allows water molecules and small drug compounds to diffuse through. The biological team is evaluating how our formulations in turn stop larger particles, such as a virus, from penetrating.

How we do it?

We are characterizing the barrier properties of potential hydrogel candidates by measuring the rate at which small compounds can pass through the material. A critical test involves looking at bacteriophage transfer. A bacteriophage is a very small virus that can invade bacteria. Latex condoms are routinely tested against bacteriophage models using quality assurance tests in order to measure if the material is an effective barrier. We are applying the similar testing to examine if the tough hydrogels can meet or exceed those standards. 

The team is also interested in how the materials could act as a delivery vehicle for small compounds. This property may be useful for the sustained delivery of pharmaceutical agents (such as anti-HIV compounds) or substances for increased pleasure during intercourse.


Who is the team?

This side of the project is led by Dr Jason McArthur, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences and located at the Illawarra Heath and Medical Research Institute at UOW, and an expert in bacterial pathogenesis and topical drug delivery. 

Dr Simon Cook, an Associate Research Fellow at UOW, recently completed his PhD studying the invasive pathogenesis of Streptococcus pyogenes and is currently characterising the biological barrier properties of the various hydrogel materials.

Professor Simon Moulton from Swinburne University of Technology also brings decades of expertise in drug delivery for novel biomedical devices.