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University of Tennessee professor receives Gates Foundation Award to reinvent condom, improve global health

Condoms have the power to make the world healthier by preventing disease and unplanned pregnancies, yet they are vastly underutilized.

This year, Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation issued a challenge to develop the next generation of condoms. Called Grand Challenges in Global Health, the initiative aims to foster scientific and technological innovation to solve key health problems in the developing world.

Jimmy Mays, a chemistry professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, responded to the challenge with a design that will encourage condom use in developing countries. He has received $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for research and development of a prototype.

"Jimmy's work is exceptional and exemplary of how the research done in the labs here at UT has the potential to catalyze change throughout the world," said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. "This award enables him to find more solutions to problems that have a dramatic effect on our lives."

According to the challenge, condoms have a stigma that they decrease pleasure. The challenge is to reinvent the condom so that it significantly preserves or enhances pleasure in order to increase regular use.

Mays' innovative condom design incorporates his work with superelastomerspolymers that can be repeatedly stretched further than existing rubbers without permanently deforming the shape of the material. These improved properties will allow condoms to be made thinner, enhancing the user experience. In addition, the use of superelastomers will allow the condoms to be made by a less expensive injection molding process that should lower cost, allow for texturing of the condom surface, and enable softness and texture of skin.

Today, more than 33 million people around the world are living with HIV and the number of newly infected people each year outnumbers those who gain access to treatment by two to one, according to the foundation. Mays' invention will be part of a comprehensive response to stop the pandemic.

"This product could lead to substantial benefits for global health, both in terms of reducing the incidence of unplanned pregnancies and in prevention of infection with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections," said Mays.

The superelastomers were discovered through a long-term collaboration between Mays, Roland Weidisch of Fraunhofer Institute in Germany and Samuel Gido of the University of Massachussetts, Amherst.

"We continue to push for a regular stream of fresh ideas to help overcome persistent health and development challenges," said Chris Wilson, director of global health discovery and translational sciences at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "Innovative thinking fuels the progress needed to overcome obstacles the world faces to pull people out of poverty."


Contact: Whitney Heins
University of Tennessee at Knoxville

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University of Tennessee professor receives Gates Foundation Award to reinvent condom, improve global health
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