Forget medicines and invasive procedures. Scientists are working on a dissolvable monoclonal antibody strip, which when inserted into the vagina can prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
These are called “plantibodies” as their production involves using tobacco plants. Researchers mainly want to use these films against sperm cells, HIV and herpes. The contraceptive and anti-STD aspects of the antibodies are being studied separately, with the aim to combine them in the end, according to IFLScience.
A 2021 study on Human Contraception Antibody (HCA) found that the antibody strips were able to immobilize sperm and even clump them up within 15 seconds. The antibodies remained active in vaginal conditions for up to 24 hours.
Another study, a 2021 Phase I clinical trial tested the safety of antibody films against HIV and herpes in humans. They were “generally safe and well tolerated, with no serious [adverse events] recorded,” the study found. The monoclonal antibodies’ targets were HIV-1, Herpes Simplex Virus-1 (HSV-1), and HSV-2. In the study, antibody levels peaked an hour after strip insertion, and high levels were maintained for 24 hours. Also, the dissolvable stips did not disrupt the vaginal pH.
“There’s a need for good on-demand nonhormonal contraceptives,” study author Professor Deborah Anderson said in a statement. “Our ultimate goal is to have a contraceptive that also protects women against sexually transmitted infections.”
The research team hopes to achieve the same results with antibodies in lubricant form. “There is an enormous gender disparity in the use of and adherence to contraception. The burden most often lands directly on people who could get pregnant,” Ph.D. student Matt Geib said.
“We should always strive to give everyone an option. I hope that the future of contraceptives will hold less invasive, more effective, and more equitable options,” Geib added.
Another clinical trial testing the efficacy and safety of antibody films as a contraception method is due to be published soon. This trial recruited humans- monogamous heterosexual couples, with fertile male partners and infertile female partners (surgical sterilization).
The study tested the “number of progressively motile sperm in aspirated endocervical mucus when using ZB-06 [the film] prior to intercourse,” within a time frame of “2-3 hours after sexual intercourse,” as per the outlet.
A separate study presented at ENDO 2022, the annual meeting of the endocrine society in Atlanta, Georgia, has conducted a successful experiment to create a safe male contraceptive regime. “Development of an effective, reversible male contraceptive method will improve reproductive options for men and women, have a major impact on public health by decreasing unintended pregnancy, and allow men to have an increasingly active role in family planning,” lead researcher Tamar Jacobsohn of the Contraceptive Development Program at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said.